A NEW MARIAN DOGMA?
Comment on Marian Academy's Declaration
At the most recent Mariological Congress held at Czestochowa, 18-24 August 1996, a commission was established in response to a request, by the Holy See, which had asked to know the opinion of the scholars present at the Congress on the possibility and the opportuneness of defining a new dogma of faith regarding Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. In recent years, the Holy Father and various dicasteries of the Holy See have received petitions requesting such a definition.
The response of the commission, deliberately brief, was unanimous and precise: it is not opportune to abandon the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council and proceed to the definition of a new dogma,
In the path of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council
From whatever perspective it is considered, the movement that is petitioning for a dogmatic definition of the Marian titles of Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate is not in line with the direction of the great Mariological text of the Second Vatican Council, chapter eight of Lumen gentium, which, in the judgement of Paul VI, constitutes the most extensive synthesis "of the Catholic doctrine on the place that the Blessed Virgin Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and the Church" ever traced by an Ecumenical Council (Closing Allocution of the Third Session of the Council, 21 November 1964, n. 7). One should not undervalue the importance of the Mariological teaching of Vatican II, set forth in the exceptional context of a dogmatic constitution, the fruit of the action of the Spirit and of the considered reflection of the Bishops - those to whom the Lord has entrusted the task of preserving and elucidating the deposit of faith. The current movement for a definition is not manifestly in line with the direction of Vatican 11, both with respect to the request for a new Mariological dogma, and the content that is proposed for such a hypothetical dogmatic definition.
The hypothesis of a new Mariological dogma
The Fathers of Vatican II and the Popes who presided at the Council, John XXIII and Paul VI decided not to proceed with new dogmatic definitions: a conclusion which came to maturity in the process of reflection and prayer involving, most prominently, John XXIII, Paul VI and the Theological Commission of the Council. Indeed, requests for new Marian dogmas had been forwarded to the Preparatory Commission for Vatican 11. For example, 265 Bishops had asked that: "Doctrina mediationis universalis beatae Mariae Virginis definiatur ut dogma fidei"; 48 Bishops had forwarded the same request with the clause "si id opportunum visum fuerit" - in all, 313 Bishops - a number undoubtedly to be taken into consideration, But this was in the preparatory phase, "ante Concilium". In fact, those requests became rare "in Concilio", disappearing little by little as the debate proceeded in the Council hall, with universal significance, accompanied by the prayer of the Church. The result is well known. The Constitution Lumen gentium, which by deliberate choice does not contain a dogmatic definition of mediation, was approved by 2,151 votes out of 2,156 a morally unanimous approbation, a true and legitimate expression of the Magisterium of the Church. Among those 2,151 votes in favour were undoubtedly those 313 Bishops who, in the preparatory phase, had requested the dogmatic definition of the mediation of Mary.
Scarcely 33 years after the promulgation of Lumen gentium - only a few years in light of the rare and exceptional nature of an Ecumenical Council - the ecclesial, theological and exegetical landscape which determined the Marian doctrinal pronouncements of Vatican II has not substantially changed.
Obviously, this does not mean that chapter eight of Lumen gentium constitutes some kind of obstacle or roadblock for the progress of doctrine relative to the Mother of the Lord: it simply means that with respect to a question of such importance as a dogmatic definition, one cannot ignore the specific position taken by a body of such doctrinal weight as an Ecumenical Council.
On the specific content
The request for a dogmatic definition concentrates on three titles of the Blessed Virgin: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate.
The Declaration of Czestochowa correctly observes that while each of these titles can be given a content in conformity with the deposit of the faith, nevertheless such "titles, as proposed, are ambiguous, as they can be understood in very different ways". This is a serious observation, for, in a doctrinal pronouncement of such weight as a dogmatic definition, it is necessary that the terms should not lend themselves to ambiguous interpretations and that they be understood in a substantially univocal way. For example, the title of Mediatrix has been understood throughout the centuries and is presently understood in notably different ways. It is enough to check recent books on Mariology - from 1987 to the present some 20 manuals have been published - to note that the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is treated by theologians in contrasting ways - in terms of its doctrinal evaluation, the determination of the area in which it is exercised and in comparison with the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Prescinding from any other consideration, in the case of the mediation of Mary, with respect to many of its aspects one finds oneself before a quaestio disputata, far from that substantial theological unanimity which, in relation to every doctrinal question, is the necessary prelude for proceeding to a dogmatic definition.
In the way of the doctrine of spiritual maternity
With respect to the title of Coredemptrix, the Declaration of Czestochowa notes that "from the time of Pope Pius XII, the term Coredemptrix has not been used by the papal Magisterium in its significant documents" and there is evidence that he himself intentionally avoided using it. An important qualification, because here and there, in papal writings which are marginal and therefore devoid of doctrinal weight, one can find such a title, be it very rarely. In substantial documents, however, and in those of some doctrinal importance, this term is absolutely avoided. Thus, the title Coredemptrix was intentionally avoided in the Dogmatic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950), in the Encyclicals Fulgens corona (1953) and Ad caeli Reginam (1954) of Pius XII, in chapter eight of Lumen gentium (1964) of the Second Vatican Council, in the Apostolic Exhortations Signum magnum (1967) and Marialis cultus of Paul VI (1974), as well as in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1986) of John Paul II, which because of its subject matter could have been a propitious occasion for its use. This is a significant fact which can not be overlooked. It is surprising then that the movement in favour of a definition would ask the papal Magisterium to proceed to a dogmatic definition - the highest expression of magisterial teaching - of a title about which the Magisterium itself harbours reservations and systematically avoids.
Rather than focusing on these considerations, however, the Declaration of Czestochowa dwells more upon the importance of following the path marked out by the Second Vatican Council and pursued by the Holy Father John Paul II - a demanding path from the doctrinal point of view, in no way minimalistic, which is fruitful in pastoral perspectives. The two principal points of this are:
- the repeated affirmation of Mary's co-operation in the work of salvation (cf. Lumen gentium, nn. 53, 56, 61, 63); cooperatio an open term, which does not give rise to negative reactions in the Catholic theological environment, used by St Augustine in the celebrated text De sancta virginitate 6; the preference of the papal Magisterium for the term cooperatio over that of coredemptio is evident in the catechesis of John Paul II during the General Audience of 9 April 1997, in which the Holy Father extensively treated the co-operation of Mary in the work of salvation.
- the insistent affirmation of Mary's spiritual maternity with respect to the disciples of Christ and all people (cf. Lumen gentium, nn. 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69), whether through her historical co-operation in the event of the Redemption or as permanent intercessor on behalf of all people, from the moment of her glorious Assumption until the coronation of all the elect (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 62).
It has been observed many times that if the Council of Ephesus (431) was the Council of the solemn statement of Mary's divine motherhood, Vatican II was the Council of the statement of her universal motherhood in the order of grace. In the light of the teaching of Vatican II, Paul VI held that the doctrine of Mary's spiritual motherhood was a truth of faith: the Blessed Virgin "continues now from heaven to exercise her motherly function of co-operation in the birth and development of divine life in the individual souls of the redeemed. This is a most consoling truth, which by the free design of the most wise God, is an integrating part of the mystery of human salvation: therefore, it must be held by faith by all Christians" (Signum magnum, n. 1).
Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (nn. 44-47), conceives of "Marian mediation" as "motherly mediation", setting it within the treatment of spiritual motherhood and seeing in it the highest expression of her co-operation in the work of salvation.
The Declaration of Czestochowa indicates the path to follow: deepen the study of the questions relative to Mary's mediation and to her function as advocate within the context of her spiritual motherhood, as significant moments of its exercise. The sensus fidelium is clearly oriented in this direction. To move in the opposite direction could turn out to be misleading or leading toward dead ends.
As was said, the three titles in question are capable of correct interpretation, like many others that appear in magisterial documents and in the piety of the Church: Nova Eva, Auxiliatrix, Socia Redemptoris.... But reflection will have to be given to why these three titles Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate have been avoided or so little used by the Magisterium of the Church over the last 50 years: it is probably because they are no longer suitable for expressing the content to which they refer.
In a certain sense, the extreme moderation with which the Declaration of Czestochowa alludes to the grave negative consequences which a definition of these titles would have on the ecumenical level is surprising: "Finally, the theologians, especially the non-Catholics, were sensitive to the ecumenical difficulties which would be involved in such a definition". This is admirable restraint, because, concretely, the crux of the question lies elsewhere - in the need for "further study" of the entire problem, "in a renewed Trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective".
Weekly Edition in English
25 June 1997, page 10
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