Definitions

patristical

Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church

The Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church have their foundation in the central teaching of the Council of Ephesus that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God. Because of this, the Roman Catholic Church has always considered her to be the most important figure of Christianity and salvation history apart from Jesus Christ himself. Consequently the Church holds many teachings and doctrines regarding her life and role. Catholic Marian doctrine forms a coherent unity. Mary's bodily assumption into heaven, for example, is in part at least, the natural consequence of her being born without original sin, and having lived a sinless life.

Marian doctrine has developed over many centuries, and been studied and codified by Councils of the Church as well as by the foremost theologians of the religious orders and universities. However, Marian revelations by individuals are not always accepted by the Church. The Roman Catholic Church has established a specific discipline for the study of the person, role and significance of the Virgin Mary, and her veneration. This is the discipline of Mariology. Pontifical schools such as the Marianum are specifically devoted to this field of study.

Dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church

De Fide Definita or De Fide Credenda doctrines have the highest degree of dogmatic certainty. These doctrines come in several forms, namely teachings which have been specifically defined as Revealed by an extraordinary definition by a Pope or Ecumenical council, or those teachings infallibly taught to be Revealed by the ordinary universal Magisterium. As in the case of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption, these doctrines were held by the Church prior to the date of official definition, but open for discussion. The date of definition must be accepted by all faithful members of the Catholic Church as contained specifically in the Deposit of Faith and owed supernatural faith in itself (de fide credenda).

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Perpetual virginity of Mary, means that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth. (De fide) This oldest Marian Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox doctrine affirms Mary's "real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made Man. Thus, according to this church dogma, Mary was ever-Virgin (Greek ἀειπάρθενος) for the remainder of her life, making Jesus her only biological son, whose conception and birth are held to be miraculous.

In the year 107, Ignatius of Antioch described the virginity of Mary as "hidden from the prince of this world ... loudly proclaimed, but wrought in the silence of God."The affirmation of the doctrine of Mary's virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus was the principal aim of the early second century work, the Protoevangelium of James (c. 120-150). The work, concerned with the character and purity of Mary, claims that Joseph had children from a marriage previous to Mary. However, the text does not explicitly assert the doctrine of perpetual virginity. The earliest such surviving reference is Origen's Commentary on Matthew, where he cites the Protoevangelium in support.

By the fourth century, the doctrine was generally accepted. Athanasius described Mary as "Ever-Virgin", Orations against the Arians, as did Epiphanius in his Medicine Chest Against All Heresies. Hilary argued in favor of the doctrine in his Commentary on Matthew and to this may be added Didymus (The Trinity) Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, in Against Helvetius, Siricius' and others.

Further important statements of the belief include the Lateran Synod of 649, Thomas Aquinas's teaching (Summa Theologiae III.28.2) that Mary gave birth painlessly in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and without injury to the hymen, and Pope Paul IV's Cum quorundam of 7 August 1555 at the Council of Trent. Before this last extraordinary papal/concilliar definition, really an afterthought, the teaching can be considered to have been always taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium as a truth contained in the deposit of faith, as opposed to by any specific extraordinary definition.

Virginity before birth Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit without participation of any man. (De fide). Non-Christians questioned this belief of the early Church Jews and Christians differed on the prediction in Is 7,14 Along with other Christian churches the Catholic Church continues to teach today, that Mary bore her son Jesus while still a virgin. From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived "by the Holy Spirit without human seed". The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own. Catechism of the Catholic Church,

Virginity during birth Mary gave birth without losing her corporal virginity (De fide). Her corporal integrity was not affected by giving birth. The Church does not teach, how this occurred physically, but insists that virginity during child birth is different from virginity of conception. Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis "Within her virginal womb she brought into life Christ our Lord in a marvellous birth." indicating the miraculous nature of the Virgin birth. Numerous early Church writers used analogies to explain this mystery, like Christ leaving the sealed tomb on Easter Sunday, or, Christ walking through closed doors, or, light and sun penetrating through glass windows.

Virginity after birth

Mary remained a virgin after giving birth (De fide). This belief of the Church was questioned in its early years Today many liberal Protestants disagree with this teaching although Martin Luther and his contemporaries believed in the ever Virgin Mary The scriptures say little about this, mentioning the brothers of Jesus, but never "sons of Mary," suggesting to the patristical writers a broader family relationship.

Mother of God

Mary is truly the mother of God (De fide). After Church fathers found common ground on Mary's virginity before, during and after giving birth, this was the first specifically Marian doctrine to be formally defined by the Church. The definition Mother of God (in Greek:Theotokos,) was formally affirmed at the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. The competing view, advocated by Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, was that Mary should be called Christotokos, meaning "Birth-giver of Christ," to restrict her role to the mother of Christ's humanity only and not his divine nature.

Nestorius' opponents, led by Cyril of Alexandria, viewed this as dividing Jesus into two distinct persons, the human who was Son of Mary, and the divine who was not. To them, this was unacceptable since by destroying the perfect union of the divine and human natures in Christ, it sabotaged the fullness of the Incarnation and, by extension, the salvation of humanity. The council accepted Cyril's reasoning, affirmed the title Theotokos for Mary, and anathematised Nestorius' view as heresy. (See Nestorianism)

In letters to Nestorius which were afterwards included among the council documents, Cyril explained his doctrine. He noted that "the holy fathers... have ventured to call the holy Virgin [T]heotokos, not as though the nature of the [W]ord or his divinity received the beginning of their existence from the holy Virgin, but because from her was born his holy body, rationally endowed with a soul, with which [body] the [W]ord was united according to the hypostasis, and is said to have been begotten according to the flesh" (Cyril's second letter to Nestorius).

Explaining his rejection of Nestorius' preferred title for Mary (Christotokos, Mother of Christ,) Cyril wrote: "Confessing the Word to be united with the flesh according to the hypostasis, we worship one Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. We do not divide him into parts and separate man and God as though they were united with each other [only] through a unity of dignity and authority... nor do we name separately Christ the Word from God, and in similar fashion, separately, another Christ from the woman, but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his own flesh... But we do not say that the Word from God dwelt as in an ordinary human born of the holy virgin... we understand that, when he became flesh, not in the same way as he is said to dwell among the saints do we distinguish the manner of the indwelling; but he was united by nature and not turned into flesh... There is, then, one Christ and Son and Lord, not with the sort of conjunction that a human being might have with God as in a unity of dignity or authority; for equality of honor does not unite natures. For Peter and John were equal to each other in honor, both of them being apostles and holy disciples, but the two were not one. Nor do we understand the manner of conjunction to be one of juxtaposition, for this is insufficient in regard to natural union.... Rather we reject the term 'conjunction' as being inadequate to express the union... [T]he holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos... If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore in a fleshly manner the Word from God become flesh), let him be anathema." (Cyril's third letter to Nestorius)

Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

Mary was conceived without original sin (De fide). The Immaculate Conception is, according to Roman Catholic dogma, the conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus without any stain of original sin, in her mother's womb: the dogma thus says that, from the first moment of her existence, she was preserved by God from the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, and that she was instead filled with divine grace. It is further believed that she lived a life completely free from sin. Her immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, by normal sexual intercourse (Christian tradition identifies her parents as Sts. Joachim and Anne), should not be confused with the doctrine of the virginal conception of her son Jesus.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, was established in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV. He did not extraordinarily define it as a dogma at this time, but this does not mean Catholics were free to believe in it or not. The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus, on December 8, 1854 as a truth not merely implied by the deposit of faith and discerned by the Church under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit (de fide tenenda), but as specifically and explicitly contained as an object of supernatural faith in the Public Revelation of the Deposit of Faith (de fide credenda).

The Catholic Church believes the dogma is supported by Scripture (e.g. Mary's being greeted by Angel Gabriel as "full of grace" or "highly favoured"), as well as either directly or indirectly by the writings of many of the Church Fathers, and often calls Mary the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:48). Catholic theology maintains that, since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for expressing her fiat. (Ott, Fund., Bk 3, Pt. 3, Ch. 2, §3.1.e).

It seemed to Pius XII that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wished to confirm by some special sign the definition, because, less than four years later, in a French town

  • The Virgin Mother, youthful and benign in appearance, clothed in a shining white garment, covered with a white mantle and girded with a hanging blue cord, showed herself to a simple and innocent girl at the grotto of Massabielle. And to this same girl, who earnestly inquired the name of her, with whose vision she was favoured, she replied with her eyes raised to heaven and sweetly: "I am the Immaculate Conception."

For the whole Roman Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from these apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. In Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day of Obligation, except where conferences of bishops have decided, with the approval of the Holy See, not to maintain it as such. It is a public holiday in some countries where Roman Catholicism is predominant e.g. Italy. In the Philippines, although this is not a public holiday, the predominance of Catholic Schools make it almost a holiday.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Mary was assumed into heaven with body and soul (de fide). Mary, the ever virgin, mother of God was free of original sin. The Immaculate Conception is one basis for the 1950 dogma. Another was the century old Church-wide veneration of the Virgin Mary as being assumed into heaven, which Pope Pius XII referred to in Deiparae Virginis Mariae and reported in Munificentissimus Deus. Although the Assumption was only recently defined as dogma, accounts of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 5th century. The Catholic church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest assumption narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), a narrative which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. (Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption] Oxford University Press, 2002, 2006). Probably composed by the 4th century, this early Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the "Six Books" Dormition narratives The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the 4th century. Later apocrypha based on these earlier texts include the De Obitu S. Dominae, attributed to St. John, a work probably from around the turn of the 6th century that is a summary of the "Six Books" narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late 5th century work ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis that presents a theologically redacted summary of the traditions in the Liber Requiei Mariae. The Transitus Mariae tells the story of the apostles being transported by white clouds to the death-bed of Mary, each from the town where he was preaching at the hour. The Decretum Gelasianum in the 490s declared some transitus Mariae literature as apocryphal.

An Armenian letter attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite also mentions the event, although this is a much later work, written sometime after the 6th century. Other saints also describe it, notably St Gregory of Tours, St John Damascene, and St Modestus of Jerusalem.

Theological debate about the Assumption continued until 1950 when, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, it was defined as definitive doctrine by Pope Pius XII:

We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Since the 1870 solemn declaration of Papal Infallibility by Vatican I in 1870, this declaration by Pius XII has been the first and only ex cathedra use of Papal Infallibility. While Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption but the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did.

Other doctrines held by the Church

The Catholic church holds many other teachings about the Virgin Mary, many of which are just as relevant as the defined teachings above. Some flow logically from the formal dogmas of virginity, sinlessness, and immaculate conception. Others are century old teachings, cults and celebrations, which, in the Catholic view, under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, are an integral part of the deposit of Faith handed down by the Church.

Mary is Mother of all Christians

The Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary is mother of the Church and of all its members, namely all Christians. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

"The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honoured as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer.... She is 'clearly the mother of the members of Christ' . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head." "Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church."

In addition, Mary is seen as mother of Christians because Christians are said in scripture to become spirtually part of the body of Christ. Christians are adopted by Jesus as his "brothers". They therefore share with Him the Fatherhood of God and also the motherhood of Mary. Again, in the New Testament book of John Jesus, from the cross gives the Apostle John to Mary as her son, and gives Mary to John as his mother. John here, as the sole remaining Apostle remaining steadfast with Jesus is taken to represent all loyal followers of Jesus from that time on.

The devotion to the Virgin Mary thus continues to be emphasized in Roman Catholic teachings. For instance, in his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II discussed how his own motto "Totus Tuus" was inspired by the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort on total consecration to the Virgin Mary, which he quoted:.

Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ."

In a separate address to the Montfortian Fathers, Pope John Paul II stated that reading Saint Louis de Montfort's work on Devotion to Mary had been a "decisive turning point" in his life

Mary as Mediatrix

Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. He alone reconciled through his death on the Cross creator and creation. But this does not exclude a secondary mediatrix role for Mary, preparatory, supportive, in the view of several prominent, but not all Catholics. The teaching that Mary intercedes for all believers and especially those who request her intercession through prayer has been held in the Church since early times, for example by Ephraim, the Syrian “after the mediater a mediatrix for the whole world Intercession is something that may be done by all the heavenly saints, but Mary is seen as having the greatest intercessionary power. The earliest surviving recorded prayer to Mary is the Sub tuum praesidium, written in Greek .

In English this is:

Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Theotokos:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Mary has increasingly been seen as a principal dispenser of God's graces and Advocate for the people of God and is mentioned as such in several official Church documents. Pope Pius IX used the title in Ineffabilis Deus. In the first of his so called Rosary encyclicals, Supremi Apostolatus (1883), Pope Leo XIII calls Our Lady the guardian of our peace and the dispensatrix of heavenly graces. The following year, 1884, his encyclical Superiore Anno speaks of the prayers presented to God through her whom He has chosen to be the dispenser of all heavenly graces. Pope Pius X employed this title in Ad Diem Illud in 1904, Pope Benedict XV introduced it into the Marian liturgy when he created the Marian feast of The Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces in 1921, In his 1954 encyclical Ad caeli reginam, Pope Pius XII calls Mary the Mediatrix of peace:

  • Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth - and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul - let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace;

The theological discussion ongoing, neither Pius XII nor his successors moved to a closure of this issue.

Co-Redemptrix

Co-Redemptrix refers to the participation of Mary in the salvation process. Already, Irenaeus, the Church Father (Died 200), referred to Mary as "causa salutis" [cause of our salvation] given her "fiat It is teaching, which has been considered since the 15th century but never declared a dogma. The Roman Catholic view of Co-Redemptrix does not imply that Mary participates as equal part in the redemption of the human race, since Christ is the only redeemer Mary herself needed redemption and was redeemed by Jesus Christ her son. Being redeemed by Christ, implies that she cannot be his equal part in the redemption process.

Co-redemptrix refers to an indirect or unequal but important participation by Mary in the redemption process. She gave free consent to give life to the redeemer, to share his life, to suffer with him under the cross and to sacrifice him for the sake of the redemption of mankind. Co-redemption is not something new.

Papal teaching begin to mention this aspect in official Church documents during the pontificate of Pope Pius X Saint Pius stated in his encyclical Ad Diem Illum: We are then, it will be seen, very far from attributing to the Mother of God a productive power of grace - a power which belongs to God alone. Yet, since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us de congruo, in the language of theologians, what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno, and she is the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces. Theologians disagree, whether the Pontiff refers here to the Co-Redemptrix or to the Mediatrix of all graces.

Pope Benedict XV first described the term in his own right in his Apostolic Letter, Inter Soldalica, issued March 22, 1918. As the Blessed Virgin Mary does not seem to participate in the public life of Jesus Christ ,and then, suddenly appears at the stations of his cross, she is not there without divine intention. She suffers with her suffering and dying son, almost as if she would have died herself. For the salvation of mankind, she gave up her rights as the mother of her son and sacrificed him for the reconciliation of divine justice, as far as she was permitted to do. Therefore, one can say, she redeemed with Christ the human race.

Pope Pius XII repeats this argument with slightly different accents in his encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943) It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall, and her mother's rights and her mother's love were included. In the Papal bull Munificentissimus Deus on dogma of the assumption, Pope Pius declares that “the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, as the noble associate of the divine Redeemer

The issue was brought up at Vatican II by Italian, Spanish and Polish bishops but not dealt with. Subsequently, Popes, while sypathetic to requests from the faithful and bishops, did not include such language in their encyclicals. In fact, the title of Co-redemptrix has not been used since Pius XII, and, according to Professor Father Stefano de Fiores, a member of the International Pontifical Marian Academy Marianum, it will not be dogmatized in near future, because "from the conciliar and ecumenical point of view, it is certainly not opportune to proclaim this dogma at this time. The separated brethren, Protestants and Orthodox, reproach us for not consulting them in regard to the last dogmas on Mary. This is why I think that a dogma of this type would have to include their participation". (Therefore) "Pontiffs do not mention it precisely so as not to cause a misunderstanding with the Protestants". Yet the history of mariological dogmas on the Immaculate Conception and Assumption show, dogmatic developments take often many centuries and long processes for maturation

Queen of Heaven

The doctrine that the Virgin Mary has been crowned Queen of Heaven goes back to the early patristic writers of the Church such as] St. Gregory Nazianzen "the Mother of the King of the universe," and the "Virgin Mother who brought forth the King of the whole world," Prudentius, the Mother marvels "that she has brought forth God as man, and even as Supreme King." and, St. Ephrem, "Let Heaven sustain me in its embrace, because I am honored above it. For heaven was not Thy mother, but Thou hast made it Thy throne. How much more honorable and venerable than the throne of a king is her mother." The Catholic Church often sees Mary as queen in heaven, bearing a crown of twelve stars in Revelation

Many Popes have given tribute to it. Mary is the queen of heaven and earth, (Pius IX), queen and ruler of the universe (Leo XIII) and queen of the world (Pius XII) The theological and logical foundation of these titles rests in the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God. As mother of God, she participates in his salvation plan. The Catholic faith teaches that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother's solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.

  • Certainly, in the full and strict meaning of the term, only Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is King; but Mary, too, as Mother of the divine Christ, as His associate in the redemption, in his struggle with His enemies and His final victory over them, has a share, though in a limited and analogous way, in His royal dignity. For from her union with Christ she attains a radiant eminence transcending that of any other creature; from her union with Christ she receives the royal right to dispose of the treasures of the Divine Redeemer's Kingdom; from her union with Christ finally is derived the inexhaustible efficacy of her maternal intercession before the Son and His Father.

This follows the Biblical precedent of ancient Israel, whose crown has, according to Christianity, passed to Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. In the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the King might, like David or Solomon, have many wives. The title of Queen, therefore went not to any wife of the king, but to the mother of the king. The Queen Mother was known in Hebrew as the gebirah. Since Jesus is heavenly king, of the lineage of David and Solomon, Mary becomes Queen Mother.

Reparations to the Virgin Mary

Roman Catholic teachings and traditions includes specific devotions as Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary for insults that she suffers. The Raccolta Catholic prayer book (approved by a Decree of 1854, and published by the Holy See in 1898) includes a number of such prayers.

These devotions and prayers do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to repair the sins of others against the Virgin Mary.

References

See also

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