Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary as Anglican Dogma

Paolo de Matteis' Annunciation, 1712


I have been asked what the references were for the perpetual virginity of Our Lady being Anglican dogma. To begin with, the Act of Supremacy of 1559, affirms the First four General Councils, and gives authority to prosecute for heresy those who deny their dogmatic decrees.

Provided always, and be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that such person or persons to whom your highness, your heirs, or successors, shall hereafter by letters patents under the great seal of England give authority to have or execute any jurisdiction, power, or authority spiritual, or to visit, reform, order, or correct any errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, or enormities by virtue of this act, shall not in any wise have authority or power to order, determine, or adjudge any matter or cause to be heresy but only such as heretofore have been determined, ordered, or adjudged to be heresy by the authority of the canonical Scriptures, or by the first four general councils or any of them, or any other general council wherein the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the said canonical Scriptures, or such as hereafter shall be ordered, judged, or determined to be heresy by the high court of parliament of this realm, with the assent of the clergy in their convocation — anything in this act contained to the contrary notwithstanding...


This Act of 1559 is part of the Anglican formularies, as part of the legislation underlying the English Book of Common Prayer, and thus, insofar as it refers to doctrine, binding on all Anglicans. This fact was, for example, explicitly accepted by the Episcopal Church in the Preface to the first book of Common Prayer: "...this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any esential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship..." (Preface to The Book of Common Prayer...according to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1789). This Preface has been printed with our Prayer Book ever since.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) is the fourth of the general councils cited in the 1559 Act of Supremacy. Among its dogmatic enactments was the setting forth of the Tome of Leo as one of its dogmatic statements. In the Tome of Leo (line 80), the following passage occurs "...missus ad beatam Mariam semper virginem angelus ait..." The line "semper virginem" (accusative of "semper virgo") means always- or ever-virgin.

Thus this dogmatic statement of an early general council affirming the perpetual virginity of our Lady, accepted by the Oriental and eastern Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, is also explicitly given as a dogma by the Anglican Churches. And thus it is an essential part of the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church, to which I swore before God with a solemn oath to conform.

I must say, by the way, that I was taught, and perceive, that this dogma in no way impugns the goodness of the body or of human sexuality, but rather was a necessary corrolary to an understanding of our Lady as the most sacred of human persons, being being the Mother of God the Son.

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