The Blessed Virgin and Interreligious Dialogue

Koran Names Mary More Than New Testament Does, Says Scholar

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, JUNE 1, 2002 ( Here is the text of an addressed given by Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Stuart Bate in the world videoconference on “Mariology from Vatican Council II Until Today.” The videoconference Wednesday was organized by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.

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Mary and Interreligious Dialogue
Mary in “Nostra Aetate”
By Father Stuart Bate

There are two references to Mary in “Nostra Aetate” [the 1965 declaration on the relation of the Church to Non-Christian religions].

The first notes that Muslims “also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion” (NA, 3). The second emphasizes the Jewish roots of Jesus and his mother quoting Paul “about his kinsmen: ´theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh´ (Romans 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary” (NA, 4).

Since Vatican II, the main areas of Mariological research in other religions have been in Judaism where the symbol “Daughter of Zion” has been studied and on the place of Mary in Islam (see “The Virgin Mary in Intellectual and Spiritual Formation,” [VMISF], Congregation for Catholic Education, March 25, 1988; No. 15). [The link is to a University of Dayton Web site.– Editor´s note.]

Mary as “Daughter of Zion”

Covenant is the principal biblical teaching about the relationship between God and his people. Von Balthasar proposes that God?s plan of salvation is originally formulated in terms of a symbolic couple (I. De la Potterie, “Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant,” Paulist, New York 1992: Paulist; p. 26). This is expressed in the marriage relationship between Christ and the Church in New Testament teaching.

In the Jewish scriptures, the covenant between God and his people is often expressed in terms of a marriage bond. Israel is cast as the bride in the theme of “Daughter of Zion” a theme which is also expressed as “Mother Zion” and “Virgin Israel.” Now these terms are applied to Mary in the New Testament especially by Luke and John (ibid., p. 36).

In this way, Mary provides a link between the two Testaments. She also links them within her person for it is from this Jewish maiden that Jesus is born and God?s revelation of a new covenant begins. Mary symbolizes both continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new covenants. The application of these Old Testament symbols to her and the incarnation of the Word within her both maintain God´s covenant with his people and renew it and bring it to completion in Jesus.

Mary in Islam

The Koran has 34 verses which name Mary. This is more than there are in the New Testament. While she is not venerated in the same way as in Christianity, where Mary is Mother of God, “Theotokos,” Islam honors her as the mother of the prophet Jesus. This gives her a special place among Muslims for the Koran teaches that the angel said to Mary, “God has chosen you and made you pure and he has chosen you above the women of the universe” (“The Imrans” III:42).

Dialogue should not seek to minimize the differences between Christian and Muslim understandings about Mary. But it can help us to recognize and deepen the various places at which our traditions converge and bring us together. As in Christianity, Mary is held up in Islam as an example of faith in God: “to those who believe, God has set an example in Mary, who preserved her chastity … who put her trust in the words of her Lord and his scriptures and was one of the truly devout” (“Prohibition” LXVI:12).

Mary and the feminine

Mary is a symbol of the feminine principle in God?s plan for salvation. This same principle is found in all religions. Theological discourse is increasingly concerned with the integration of this dimension of faith in God (see “Mulieris Dignitatem”). This is one reason why the deepening of Mariological studies is one of the important areas of theological research at this time (VMISF, No. 15). The study of other religions can help in the illumination of this principle in Christian discourse. Hinduism, for example, is replete with such reflection and the feminine dimension is strongly expressed in the Hindu pantheon.


But beyond this, interreligious dialogue is expressed in cooperation. In a multicultural world faced with increasing moral confusion, good people from all religious traditions should work together to preserve religious values which militate against greed, violence and selfishness. In South Africa, people of different faith traditions are currently collaborating in a program for the moral reconstruction in our country. Mary is a model of these values for all of us and we can all call upon her prayers for a better world in which to bring up future generations.

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