Nichols, There is no Rose.
In 1966, A Man for All Seasons won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well five other Oscars. The film told the story of Saint Thomas More’s opposition to Henry VIII’s break with the Pope so that he could create a national Church pliant to his desire to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. The movie concluded with More’s execution, followed by a voice-over as the credits rolled detailing how history vindicated the martyr’s cause.
Months before, the Second Vatican Council concluded. The council signaled a shift in the Church’s approach to the modern world from antagonism to dialogue. In this context, the task of the theologian evolved from defining and drawing out the implications of doctrine to entering into conversation with the wider world. This change impacted Mariology significantly. In a time when ecumenical, liturgical and biblical concerns came to dominate Catholic theology, the post-conciliar mariologist has faced the task of justifying the relevance of his discipline.
In his book, There is No Rose, the English Dominican Aidan Nichols provides an approach to Mariology that is unapologetically doctrinal. The author, who converted from Anglicanism in 1966, does not advocate a return to Mariology as it was practiced before Vatican II, but rather a discerning appropriation of the best of the Church’s twenty-century tradition, both in the East and the West. In his view, the Council constitutes one point, albeit a highly significant one, on the landscape of Mariology.
This slim volume (only 187 pages) does not seek to give anything like an exhaustive account of the discipline. Instead, it sketches principal doctrinal themes in order to give an impressionistic portrait of “a more full-bodied Marian teaching” in the best traditions of the ressourcement. After examining biblical data, Nichols turns to six doctrinal points of reference. In doing so, he does not limit his focus only to the Divine Maternity, Immaculate Conception and Assumption. He also weighs in on more controversial doctrinal proposals when he considers Mary as Mediatrix of grace, Co-redemptrix and Mother of the Church, with the characteristic robust balance that one has come to expect from his extensive corpus. Attentive to ecumenical considerations, Nichols concludes with an excursus on the dogmatic implications of Orthodox Marian iconography.
It would be a mistake to conclude that the type of Mariology presented in There is No Rose seeks to reverse the dialogical turn of Vatican II. The work seeks to address the signs of the times two generations after the close of the Council. This year’s Academy Awards were a potent reminder that dialogue with the modern world is a much different game than it was in 1966. When one can no longer presume the existence of willing interlocutors outside the Church and internal secularization inside the Church continues to accelerate, it becomes imperative to devote one’s resources to ensuring a position from which one can enter into dialogue. Nichols’ book provides a helpful starting point for doing so for students of Mariology.