Monday, November 28, 2005

Toward a Fifth Marian Dogma

Behold Your Mother: The Fifth Marian Dogma by Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, FI, STD


When our Lord just before dying and consummating His redemptive sacrifice on the Cross addressed these words (cf. Jn 19, 25-27) to the beloved disciple John (and through him to all of us) and told John (and through him also every one of us) to take her into our homes-hearts, He was also telling us to behold, contemplate her as His compassionate Mother and ours, viz., as the WOMAN, the IMMACULATE COREDEMPTRIX.

A great deal has been said and written in recent years concerning the possibility and need to define dogmatically the Marian titles of Coredemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate, a “fifth” Marian dogma: divine Maternity, perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption being the first four, with that of the Coredemption, etc., said by some to be the “final” Marian dogma in the sense that such a definition would, with the preceding four Marian dogmas, round out and render definitive the Marian synthesis in part sketched in chapter 8 of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II.

In many academic circles, including the theological, such proposals have not met with favor, indeed often enough with rather decided and occasionally violent opposition. Such proposals are seen in those circles, not as an integration of the doctrine of Vatican II, but as a reversion to an outmoded way of theologizing about the Mother of God with unmistakable signs of a devotionalism or Marian maximalism incompatible with and embarrassing to the ecumenism sponsored by Vatican II and promoted by the present Holy Father.

Were the issue only one of devotional practice (a type of orthopraxis), the critics of the movement might have a case. Devotion qua actus humanus admits of too much and of too little. As even the critics implicitly admit, however, rather than moderation in the exercise of Marian devotion, the primary issue is the nature of orthopraxis itself as guided by dogmatic faith, indeed as encapsulating that faith at its heart. To the person who does not believe in the divine, virginal maternity any form of hyperdulia is too much by definition. Whereas for someone who does accept and believe in the dogma of Ephesus any devotion of his in practice seems too little in contrast with the devotion God’s own Son in fact has given and continues to give to His Mother in observing the fourth commandment.

The point might be put in the form of a question thus: what is the measure of too much (maximalism) or of too little (minimalism) devotion to Our Lady? De Maria numquam satis! From a purely pragmatic standpoint the old axiom guiding the Marian piety so many Saints east and west is simply indefensible. From a dogmatic standpoint it may well be the only acceptable guideline. St. Bonaventure says (Sermo I de purificatione) that he had never heard of a Saint without devotion to Mary or a great Saint without great, viz., maximal, devotion to the Virgin Mother.

What in principle defines maximal Marian devotion? Obviously the title Theotokos – Dei Genitrix. But like the NAME Jesus – Jahweh or He Who Is -, the actual honor due those NAMES is proximately defined in virtue of their roles in the great sacrificial work on Calvary, continued in the mystery of the Eucharist in the Church. St. Paul writes to the Philippians, ch. 2, v. 9: “For which reason – namely Jesus’ sacrificial obedience – God (viz., the Father) has given Him a NAME above every other name, before which every knee in heaven, on earth and under the earth (the trina mundi machina) must bend and every tongue proclaim Jesus is in the glory of God the Father.” Rendering such honor has always been recognized in the liturgy to include in some way the Mother of the Savior before and above all others. The Communicantes et memoriam venerantes in primis beatae et semper gloriosae Virginis Mariae Matris Dei et Domini nostri Jesu Christi… of the Roman Canon puts it concisely. The ancient Marian hymn Quem terra, pontus, aetera alludes to this in referring to Mary as the one who bore the trinam regentem machinam.

Granted, a rejoinder might be: how important is such a doctrinal consideration? After all do not questions of mariology occupy a rather decidedly subordinate and lower rung of the veritatum hierarchia, on the margin rather than at the core of theological discussion, particularly today?
To this the supporters of a definition reply in the negative. Questions of mariology, particularly that of the coredemption and its corollaries: the universal maternal mediation and advocacy of Mary in the Church unique to her, directly touch upon the central question of our theology and spirituality, the wisdom of the Cross and the meaning of the Pauline phrase: one God (the Father) and one Mediator of all the man-God Jesus, sole Redeemer (cf. I Tim. 2, 5-6). Is the famous dictum Christus solus Redemptor based on this passage of St. Paul exclusive or inclusive of Mary?

This is in the final analysis what the debate over the title Coredemptress is about and why it is the central debate of contemporary theology – as indeed it was clearly that on the eve of Vatican II. Those tending to accent the importance of Marian devotion in the life of the Church and of its members, indeed of all men, were known as “christotypologists”, viz., those who stressed the uniqueness of Mary in pertaining to “the order of the hypostatic union” and so her unique place in the Church as “preeminent” member of the Church; whereas those who tended to downplay such devotion and not differentiate it specifically from the veneration or dulia paid the other saints and from their intercessory role were known as “ecclesiotypologists”.

The first group insisted on the active, though subordinate role of the Virgin in the great sacrificial act whereby the Redeemer effected our ransom. The second group would not concede to Mary on Calvary more than a mere “passive” exemplarity vis-à-vis the Church. As in every other great christological controversy of the past two millennia the resolution of the Marian issue determines how in theory and practice the christological issue is resolved.
And in the past, without exception, affirming the Marian not only as close to but as inseparable from the core of Christian theology: no Christ without Mary, no Christian theology without also being Marian theology, has been the condition for a maximal recognition of the NAME; denying that has been the prelude to banalizing the NAME. A priori we may logically expect in virtue of this principle Card. Newman formulated so concisely (cf. the sermon entitled “The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son” in Discourse to Mixed Congregations (London 1899) pp. 342-359) that the “christotypical” approach to the question of the Coredemption rather than the ecclesiotypical is the one calculated to give the maximal glory to the NAME of Redeemer, and that such glory will be given by every tongue by merging with Mary’s: Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo Salvatori meo (or salutari meo). This is what the NAME Jesus means as translated by St. Jerome – God is my Savior (or my Salvation). Only by venerating Mary under the title COREDEMPTRESS can we harmonize our praise of the Savior for the redemption which He has wrought for us.

Dogmatic definitions do indeed impact on theology and theologians, but they do so because first of all they are doxological acts of the entire Church, acts which have always involved the Mother of the Church, Mater et Magistra Apostolorum (St. Bonaventure).
Now it is true that Vatican II did not choose to employ the title Coredemptress, and only sparingly used that of Mediatrix. But neither did the Council forbid their use as critics of the proposed definition never cease to repeat. The Council for pastoral reasons abstained from deciding the doctrinal question then debated and still debated. But the Council did not forbid the study of this question, indeed the Church encourages such study. And any fair reading of chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium indicates that promotion of those titles matches exactly the thrust both of tradition and of Vatican II.

Another way of formulating the central issue of modern theology is this: joint predestination of Jesus and Mary as the centerpiece of the economy of salvation, or Christ alone. The genius of Luther, apart from whether one likes or dislikes him, agrees or disagrees with him, was to have formulated the question in that way: a spirituality whose primary mode is either Marian or not, a theology of the cross whose primary mode is defined with or without the Coredemptress. Luther unfortunately chose the “without Coredemptress” option, despite himself thereby underscoring the Marian dimension of “our theology” (Bl. John Duns Scotus) and every major theological question to be the key to its resolution.

The Catholic reply has always been: by the eternal counsels of God the “Christ alone” includes Mary without confusion of persons, indeed as a means to identifying and worshiping her Son as God and Savior. For her inclusion thus is the divinely appointed instrument of His Incarnation, of His redemptive work and of its application. Whence Marian devotion, as St. Bonaventure insists in commenting the purification-presentation of Jesus and Mary, is the primary, fundamental, distinctive feature of all Christian life, thought, sanctity, joy. It is not possible in virtue of the only divine salvific dispensation to be Christ-like without being Mary-like (Paul VI, at the sanctuary of Bonaria in Sardinia, 1970), for the simple reason that God became like us in becoming like Mary, viz., her Son.

Extensive research, in the past and currently, has amply demonstrated that the doctrine now known in theology as the coredemption is no mere theological opinion, whose content at least has been explicitly asserted by the Magisterium, on occasion with the use of this title as with Pope Pius XI and Pope John Paul II. Hence there can be no question of its truth, only of the opportuneness of a definition, either because of insufficiently precise articulation, and/or because the best moment for such a definition to be maximally beneficial for the Church and the salvation of souls has not arrived.

In the light of this the major objections to the doctrine: whether these be taken to refer to its truth or to the opportuneness of its dogmatic definition, take on quite a different color. Rather than demonstrate the promotors of the definition to be “maximalists”, they serve quite effectively to rivet attention on the central place of the mystery of Mary at the foot of the cross and aside the altar in the life and thought of the Church.
The objections are many, but in great part reducible to three types or categories. The first might be dubbed the generic, in the sense that support of a definition of the coredemption rests on a concept of theology rendered obsolete by Vatican II. But how could such an assumption tirelessly repeated by the critics be true? It would invalidate Vatican II. And the complementary proposition, that Vatican II in lauching a “new style” in theology “more biblically, ecumenically, pastorally sensitive” forbade the use of terminology and methods characteristic of the preconciliar mariology and indispensable to a defense of the coredemptive thesis, appears nowhere in the documents of Vatican II. The “preconciliar” mariology was not “unbiblical, anti-ecumenical, pastorally insensitive”. Dogmatic mariology as traditionally practiced in the Church, nowhere more so than when focusing on the coredemption, is the only kind of theology which can aspire to being profoundly biblical, ecumenical and pastorally sensitive.

The second type of objection might be dubbed the ecumenical because the objectors claim coredemption poses an insurmountable obstacle to ecumenism to which the Church is now committed. Objections of this type from non-Catholics are made to demonstrate the impossibility of the doctrine; by Catholics to prove why a definition is inopportune. One version of the objection will claim that affirming the coredemption detracts from the unique, distinctive role of Jesus as Redeemer. The simplest, most telling exposure of what is wrong with the argument is to retort it: if this is so, then the title Mother of God is even more a detraction. The fact is the affirmation of the divine, virginal Maternity affirms and reveals the distinct divine person of the Child of Mary. The affirmation of the maternal Coredemption affirms and reveals the distinct character of her Child’s redemptive work.

The other version touches on the pneumatological. To proclaim Mary as Coredemptress is to put her in the place of the Holy Spirit. In reply: not to proclaim Mary as Coredemptress is to revive the old Joachimism, to divorce in practice the mission of the Holy Spirit from that of the Son, the canonical or institutional aspects of the Church from the charismatic, and in the end to permit the evil spirit to occupy the place of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. Both theoretically and practically resolution of key issues touching the bases of a Christian spirituality revolves about the relation of the Virgin to the Holy Spirit: is she in the words of St. Francis Spouse of the Holy Spirit and therefore Mother of God? Is she in the words of St. Maximilian the created Immaculate Conception because the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception, therefore Coredemptress and Mediatrix of all graces?

The traditional Catholic affirmative in response to such questions helps us to deal with the third type of objection: cultural irrelevance of the traditional approach in mariology which converges on the mystery of the Coredemption today. It is just this affirmative which enables us to grasp the mythical character of the generation gap and cultural gulf. No such gap-gulf exists requiring a radical departure from the traditional dogmatic mariology, precisely and above all because of the IMMACULATE WOMAN of Genesis 3: 15, who is the Virgin Mother and victorious Coredemptress.

1 comment:

Eric Levan said...

Fantastic article. I'm one of those who believes that once this teaching is declared dogma, a new era of peace will dawn upon the Church and mankind. Thanks for publishing this important article from a very devout marian priest.

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