Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Co-Redemptrix or Mother of the Church?

It is interesting to look at the text of the recent letter asking for a solemn definition of a "fifth Marian dogma" in the context of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is interesting, too, to see the developing of the themes in that teaching. First, some representative texts, and then a some questions. No claim is made for any particular academic rigour or authority ... just a contribution to discussion.

From Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens Mary the Mother of God, published in 1959, to represent what theologians were saying just before Vatican II:
“ …our age is both ‘an age of the Church’ and an ‘age of Mary’" …

“As Mother of Christ, who unites us all, she is also mother of the entire human race summed up in its Head, and thus Mother of the whole Church."

"On Calvary, our Lady is both passive and active. She endures the most agonizing suffering of her life, but she also offers it to her son and through him to the Father ...

"(Some theologians) prefer to say that she 'co-operates in the redemption' or 'is associated with the Redeemer'. The idea is the same, the actual name [ie Co-redemptrix] is more inclusive and direct."

Two titles given, at different stages, to drafts of the schema on the Blessed Virgin, prepared for consideration by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council:

"On Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church"

"On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men"

[My source of these is Alberigo, Komonchak (eds.) History of Vatican II]

The eventual title of the chapter on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council:

"On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church"

[This from my Latin copy of the Council documents; in the English translation that I have, the title is given just as "Our Lady"]

And from the chapter of Lumen Gentium itself:

"(Mary is) the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, and most of all of the faithful ..." [n.54]

"The Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely co-operating in the work of man's salvation...[n.56] (She) faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross ... enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her [n.58]"

"The Blessed Virgin Mary is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix" [n.62]

[The titles listed here are carefully footnoted by Lumen Gentium to show precedents for their use by the Magisterium - Co-redemptrix, though used in some homilies/allocutions by recent Popes has not been used in formal Magisterial teaching.]

At the end of the third session of the Council, Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary under the title Mother of the Church:

"... for the glory of the Virgin Mary and for our own consolation, we proclaim the Most Holy Mary as Mother of the Church, that is to say, of all the people of God, the faithful as well as the pastors ..."

[Pope John Paul II was to say about this declaration in a General Audience address that .."In this way, my venerable Predecessor explicitly enunciated the doctrine contained in chapter eight of Lumen Gentium".]

From the letter of five Cardinals, sponsors of the 2005 symposium on Marian Co-redemption, sent to Cardinals and Bishops of the world on 1st January 2008, and asking for a solemn definition by the Holy Father:

"We thereby submit this votum accompanied by one possible formulation of the Marian doctrine which we, please God, pray may be solemnly defined by your Holiness:

"Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, gave to humanity from the Cross his mother Mary to be the spiritual Mother of all peoples, the Co-redemptrix, who under and with her Son cooperated in the Redemption of all people; the Mediatrix of all graces, who as Mother brings us the gifts of eternal life; and the Advocate, who presents our prayers to her Son. "

And now the questions:

1. In terms of doctrinal content, does the Cardinals' petition ask for anything that has not already been taught by the Magisterium, and, in particular by the Second Vatican Council? Is the petition just asking for the addition of the title of Co-redmeptrix? Does the petition really represent a petition for a "fifth Marian dogma"? [The question of "spiritual Mother of all peoples" seems to me to represent a possible development in doctrinal content - see question 4 below - but not other aspects of the petition]

2. In terms of solemnity of definition, what would a "papal definition" add to the solemnity of the teaching of an ecumenical council, namely Vatican II?

3. Does the textual hermeneutics of the title of the chapter of Lumen Gentium and, by implication, of Pope Paul VI's use of the title "Mother of the Church" , allow us to suggest that it is this title that already expresses doctrinal content that might be seen in the Cardinals' petition?

4. In the context of the Cardinals' petition, what is the relationship between the title "Mother of the Church" and the title "Mother of all peoples"? Cardinal Suenens suggests that the latter title is the basis for the former title, whereas Pope Paul VI's declaration makes no reference to the latter title. How far does the title "Mother of the Church" already imply "Mother of all peoples", or does it exclude it? [If the Church is seen as a "representative" people for all the peoples of the earth, the new Israel, then the title "Mother of the Church" already implies "Mother of all peoples".]

I have a lot of sympathy with those who would question the opportuneness of any acquiescence to the Cardinals' petition. The careful intricacies involved in explaining it are likely to be lost on most people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, and, significantly, lost altogether in the realms of the media.


Anonymous said...

Since your questions go completely beyond my theological understanding, I would like to only complicate matters and add one of my own: would this dogma change anything? I read and hear everywhere that there's never been as much devotion to Mary as there is now. Would another dogma have any influence on that?

(Oh, and on a side note, I do hope you know you'd be very welcome at the Bootcamp - you wouldn't be the only Briton (we've already got two!) and neither would you be the only attendant who's not completely of the so-called "John Paul II Generation". Just to be clear. :) )

Joe said...

I think the question about whether or not the "fifth dogma" would change anything is a good question. In terms of doctrinal content, I don't think it would - and in that sense it doesn't comprise a new "dogma" at all.

I think that, if you read the chapter of Vatican II's Lumen Gentium on Our Lady, you find expressed there the content of the title "Co-redemptrix", though without the title itself being used.

The co-operation of Mary with Christ in the history of redemption is described in Lumen Gentium nn.55-59; her role with regard to the Church, as model and type, and her role as mediatrix subordinate to the one mediation of Christ himself, are taught in Lumen Gentium nn.60-65.

I am not convinced that an additional Papal definition will really add anything - except lots of chances for people to misinterpret the doctrine, especially in the media.