THOUGHTS ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE CATHOLIC DOGMA OF THE ASSUMPTION
(by Brunero Gherardini)
[Abstract]: Monsignor Gherardini explains the meaning of the titles Assumpta ("raised to Heaven"), Mediatrix, and Co-Redemptrix given to the Virgin Mary in Catholic theology. Assumpta was defined as a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix are not as yet dogmata but belong to the truths handed down by the Catholic Tradition. All titles given to Mary the Virgin are grounded in her being Mother of Christ. She is honoured because she is Mother of God; thus, honour paid to her is honour paid to Christ the Lord.
Assumpta [raised to heaven] because Co-Redemptrix on earth - The sixtieth anniversary of the dogmatic proclamation of Mary's Assumption suggested this important Symposium, not simply as an opportunity for celebration but as a staff meeting for an adequately reasoned reflection on the foundation and the meaning of the aforementioned proclamation.
Thus, a thought of warm appreciation and fervent thanks go to the infatigable Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate for having artfully isolated and removed from the whirl of modern life such a significant occurrence, worthy of interest and study, as the sixtieth anniversary of the last Marian dogma.
I wish to express equally warm and sincere congratulations for the arrangements and set-up that the organizers have been willing and able to bring to their Symposium, so as not to make it in the slightest an exhibit-case for displaying some of the most beautiful and unexceptionable mariological pearls: these pearls, because of their formal beauty and doctrinal unexceptionableness, are in themselves objects of general admiration. The Symposium will be, instead, an orderly and clearly articulated mosaic, whose tesserae will respond in well-ordained succession to the unifying purpose of the whole, lending to it the dignity and the coordination of a taxis. Indeed, the general theme is not only a thesis to be demonstrated, but also and most importantly an orderly sequence of various elements, all related to a higher value: a truth revealed and dogmatically defined as such, hence a pillar of the Catholic Faith.
What I just called tesserae will contribute to throw light on the cohesion and unity of this sequence. The tesserae are the single themes of the Symposium. Every one of them, mutually linked to the others by the bond of the "analogicalness of Faith," will contribute in its own way to the harmonic completeness of the whole.
( 1 ) - Title - The general title, soon to be the object of appropriate remarks, reflects the transcendent value of dogma. Hence, it is a compendium that not only comprises but unifies in all its articulations the aforementioned "analogicalness of Faith." A consideration, not formally dogmatic, arises from that title: Marian co-redemption, which supports another, formally dogmatic, consideration: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in body and soul to the glory of heaven. Anyone taking exception to the first consideration on account of its formal non-dogmaticalness would err, in my view. There are uneschewably ecclesial doctrines that appear repeatedly both in official documents and in liturgical prayer, that is to say: in the wellspring and measure of Faith, albeit without claiming formal dogmatic validity, because they were never defined in that sense. And yet they, too, are authentic doctrine of the Church, rightfully included in the order of what is "definitive tenendum" ["to be held definitively"], although they are not proposed "definitorio modo" ["in the manner of definitions"]. Marian co-redemption is undoubtedly one of these doctrines. Not only because comparatively recent Popes (dimly enlightened opponents base their "no" on the fact that these Popes are recent, meaning that they do not belong to Tradition) have illustrated with documents of universal value the reasons for co-redemption, but because those values emerge from the prayed dogma (i.e. the liturgy), the Eastern and Western patristic heritage, from the most reliable theological tradition, from popular piety made into a mouthpiece of the common sensus fidei [sense of Faith] and in the very first place, though implicitly and indirectly, from Holy Scripture. Therefore, sooner or later co-redemption shall certainly be defined as a dogma of the Catholic faith, but even if this should not happen, it will never cease to belong to the doctrinal treasure of the Church.
Both considerations that arise from the title must be then taken seriously inasmuch as, notwithstanding their formal diversity, they both present themselves to a critical evaluation as two distinct and analogically related objects of ecclesial teaching.
That title suggests yet another remark. The reference to "earth" after the previous reference to "heaven" is not to be considered a mere rhetorical device meant to sharpen the contrasts, but as a specific consequence of the reality of co-redemption and the concept thereof. There is at times some confusion between Mediation and Co-Redemption and there are even those who join these two distinct notions into one. For no good reason, though. While Mediation indicates a ratio of equal distance between two extremes and the action aiming at joining them, Co-Redemption is (on the one hand) a species [=subclass] of the genus [=class] Mediation, inasmuch as it comprises a mediator and the corresponding mediating act, but on the other hand it configures both presence and act in such a specific way that it is quite distinct, i.e. really and cum fundamento in re [with foundation in reality] from a purely generic mediation. This is also evidenced by the suggested alternation of "heaven" and "earth."
Mediation - The theatre of Marian mediation is not limited to either sphere but exists and works in both, from the very moment when the pre-temporal plan of the Father singled out the Virgin and raised her to the hypostatic order of the Word that was to be incarnate in her. Mary has always been ever since a mediating presence and mediation in act. Such was she at the fatidic moment of her "Yes" to the redemptive plan of the Father, such was she in the hut of Bethlehem, giving birth to Jesus, such was she at Nazareth, as watchful and caring Mother to such a Son, such was she at Cana, as a wedding guest interceding for two newly-wed in distress; such was she during the three years of her Son's public life, fading into a co-presence of silence, devotion, and love, such was she on Golgotha at the foot of the Cross, offering up hieratically the Son to the Father in moral representation and on behalf of the whole mankind.
Her mediation did not cease in that moment when she felt crushed under the inmeasurable weight of the Cross of Christ. To the contrary: following the Son in the glory of heaven, she is at his right as the gebirah of the Old Testament, the "Queen Mother", the "Mighty Lady" who can in one glance come to the help of her children in need: first and foremost the Church, her summits and her periphery, her faithful, all the needy, the whole mankind. Mary's mediation not only does not cease as a result of her passing from earth to heaven, but renews constantly in heaven its provident interventions on behalf of the earth.
Co-Redemption - Not so co-redemption that in its coming to fruition is the very cooperation of Mary, side by side and subordinate to Christ, for the redemption of mankind. Earth is, then, the theatre of co-redemption. The moment of immediate cooperation by Mary - hence the moment of her immediate participation in Christ's redemption - takes place on earth. For earth is where the "principle of association" (also called "associative co-redemption") is realized and becomes operational. That principle had already been formulated by Pius IX and Leo XIII with a strong emphasis on consortium: consors facta [made a partner], consors cum eo extitit laboriosae expiationis [she was his partner in unremitting expiation]. Later, the same concept was a familiar one for Pius XII: socia, associata, consociata, coniunctio, coniuncta [partner, associate, made partner, union, united]. As saying, yes, Christ and Christ alone is the Redeemer, but the revelation of the Father's redemptive plan attests that redemption would not have come about without Mary's personal and direct contribution. To be sure, a contribution a latere [on the side], a subordinate and de congruo one, but still a contribution of co-redemptive merits earned by Mary alongside Christ, as a subordinate to Christ, in the service of Christ.
Clearly, such merits were earned in the time from the "yes" to the angel of the annunciation to the time when Mary "stood" (John 19:25) on Golgotha's steep mountainside, crimsoned with the Son's blood. In heaven merits are no longer earned, thus, no longer is there redemption and cooperation with redemption: there is distribution of its salutary effects. Mary, the gebirah, has her share in it: no longer in the attitude of immediate participation in the redemptive act of the Son, but in that of the mother and queen who looks after her children's welfare. For in heaven co-redemption does indeed maintain the specificity that distinguishes it from mediation, but - since the immediate and direct acquisition of the salutary merit a latere Christi [at Christ's side] has ceased - the Co-Redemptrix is identified with the Mediatrix who grants universally and freely the previously acquired deserts.
( 2 ) - Thematic arrangement Not only the conference title, but the papers in general and their arrangement are deserving of delighted attention. Such arrangement, however - and here I must add, In insipientia dico [I am talking like a fool] (2Cor. 11:17) could have been somewhat better coordinated. It is obvious that the organizers, when distributing the material in view of an elaboration of the general theme, made a rather free use of the classical theological method. They inquired first of all into Divine Revelation, then into the testimony of the Fathers, and finally into "theological reason" with a broad spectrum of special refractions of the main theme: in the glorious Franciscan School with some of its most typical representatives; in relation to contemporary errors; in some directions taken by modern spirituality; in Africa's geographical environment; in the Masses and liturgical offices of the Assumpta.
A reference to a magisterial document of the Church - the Munificentissimus Deus, of November 1st, 1950 - transpires only at the end. A strict observance of the theological method mentioned in the previous paragraph should have ranked such document before any other consideration, since theology begins with the Magisterium, seeks its foundation in the Word revealed and handed down, and verifies its congruity or non-contradiction at the rational level.
I will not review every single contribution to the program - in so doing,I would not wish to lessen the pleasure of direct listening. I only wish to draw attention to the selected topics and their analogical correlation. The starting point is the mariological exegesis of Rev. 12. Everyone knows about the divergence, from the earliest times, of two distinct interpretations of the text in question, one mariological, ecclesiological the other. The legitimacy of both has always been upheld, but one cannot, most definitely, find fault with those who only acknowledge the mariological one.
Dearest Father Stefano Manelli takes a stance in favour of the mariolgical interpretation not only with his Mariologia biblica [Biblical Mariology], but also with other contributions culminating in his paper for this Symposium. And how could one forget Lucien Deiss (1), L. Cerfaux (2), most importantly F.M. Braun (3), but also J. Sickenberger (4), L. Di Fonzo (5); and how cannot one take into account that already in the sixth century Cassiodorus did not hesitate one minute to recognize Mary's features in the Woman of Rev. 12, as Luciana Cuppo is now demonstrating in her edition of Complexiones in Apocalypsi, forthcoming in the Library of Early Christianity Series, Catholic University of America Press.
Father Settimio Manelli continues the scriptural inquiry on the Assumption. Then the historical inquiry, much more extensive, begins, ranging from the Fathers of the Church to the Franciscan tradition - whose expression, not too long ago, was typically found in the powerful mariological works of Father C. Balic; from the dormitio Mariae to the presence of the Assumpta in some devotional-theological traditions such as that of Louis de Montfort or the Blessed Giacomo Alberione; from the theological reception of the Assumption, also considered in relation to contemporary errors, to the connexion between Co-Redemptrix and Assumpta in the works of Dolindo Ruotolo, whose value is being rediscovered today; from the co-presence of co-redemption and assumption in the sacred liturgy to its echoes in the African world and, we might add, in other geographical areas as well. Finally, some thoughts on the possible assumption of Saint Joseph, already suggested by Saint Bernardine and others. From a methodological perspective, I see in these thoughts the third phase of dogmatic demonstration: that of theological reasoning. Had it been ordained to the connexion between co-redemption and assumption, perhaps it would have been more pertinent, but it would have denied yours truly the opportunity for some fine-tuning that, to the contrary, I feel privileged to provide, thus concluding my talk.
(3) - Nature of the connexion between assumption and co-redemption - In this respect, the principle of "hierarchia veritatum" [hierarchy of truths], by which Unitatis redintegratio 11/c distinguishes the individual truths according to their diverse "nexus cum fundamento fidei christianae" [connexion with the foundation of Christian faith], does not seem, in my opinion, quite pertinent. As if there were truths more revealed than others, or more than others grounded in Revelation and, based on this distinction, more or less "true." Quite different, indeed, the criterion for the discernment of truths signalled by Vatican I: "tum ex eorum, quae naturaliter cognoscit, analogia, tum e mysteriorum ipsorum nexu" [an analogy derived both from truths known naturally and from the connexion of the very mysteries]. This is the criterion of analogical knowledge extended to the supernatural realm, whose mysteries, incomprehensible in themselves even though revealed, not only are expressed in the analogical forms of human discourse, but are also mutually linked, so that the one is reflected in the other and a deeper knowledge of them derives from this very link. The connexion between Co-Redemption and Assumption, evident and explicit in the title given to the Symposium, is also dependent upon such knowledge.
This connexion, indeed, is not limited to those two mariological values, but encompasses all others (all that falls under the specific purview of Catholic mariology), based on its very need of a first principle on which any subsequent development will hinge. The question of the first mariological principle is a complex one that has found different solutions. In my essay La Madre I listed the main suggestions of mariologists: the principle of transcendence, or the principle of convenience, or the principle of eminence/supereminence; the associative principle; that of recapitulation; that of liberation, as well as - obviously - that of analogy. All are equally valid for the purpose of demonstrating the interdependence of mariological values; the only variable is their point of departure. It is my conviction that there is only one point of departure, and that is the central position of divine maternity in the plan of salvation of the eternal Father.
It was the will of the Father that Mary be Immaculate - Evervirgin - Assumpta for the purpose of a convenience congruous with the ineffable dignity of the divine Maternity. Hence, all mariological values including co-redemption are linked to this maternity as exigencies stemming from it and as its blossom.
I cannot, however, bypass the previously mentioned criterion of the mutual analogical link among divinely revealed mysteries. The analogy that binds them together as one unit is the means by which they mutually recall and shed light on one another, and makes it possible to vary the perspective without altering their dogmatic and theological meaning. As I can say, "Immaculate, or Evervirgin, or Assumpta because she is Mother", so I can say, "Immaculate and Virgin and Assumpta because she is Mother and Co-Redemptrix", or also, "Co-Redemptrix because she is Immaculate Mother, Virgin, Assumpta."
The so-called associative principle is also of primary importance. It hinges mainly on Mary's divine maternity: according to this principle the Mother is not so much a reflexion, as a dilatation of the Son. What is in Him is also in her, though with the variant of an analogical gradation. On this point hinges not only the structure of a mariology seen in a christological key, but also the analogical connexion of the Son and the Mother, of his and her mysteries. Today the assertion that Mary is grafted on the hypostatic order of Christ is universally accepted, not because a second hypostatic union happened also in her, but because she, as Mother of the Word incarnate, belongs intrinsically to his hypostatic order. Thus, she cannot be known if detached from Him. Because she is in function of Him, she is so connected with Him that she has in this connexion the reason why she can be known as "socia" [associate] and "consors" [consort] of Him; she is associate because she is his Mother and, inasmuch as she is Mother, she partakes in the Son's redemptive condition and is Co-Redemptrix. This fact links Mary to the Son and repeats in her, dilating into her, what happens in Him. He agonizes on the Cross, and her mortal agony is consummated under the Cross. He ascends to heaven, circumfused with the glory of his resurrection; she, enveloped in the same glory, as she once was in the working of the Holy Spirit, is taken up by his might to the life of heaven, in a triumphant bliss of angels and saints.There he sits at the right hand of the Father; there she is at his side as the inseparable gebirah dispenser of all graces.
Her maternity is, then, at the basis of all her other titles. And as it is true that she is Immaculate, ever Virgin, and Assumpta because, and inasmuch as she is Mother of the Redeemer, personally involved in his redemptive work, so it is just as true that the relationship between Mother and Son determines her close association with his lot, and makes her Co-Redemptrix subordinately to the Redeemer, Assumpta as a consequence of his ascension, Queen of heaven and earth as an extension to her, the Mother, of the royal might of Him, the Son. Thus, everything is brought back to her divine maternity; and so also the title, "Raised to heaven because Co-Redemptrix on earth."