Immaculate Conception and Assumption have strong 0...


January 10, 1998

Immaculate Conception and Assumption have strong 0) theological roots

As a theologian who has made a specialty out of the study of Mary (Mariology), I am troubled by Father Joseph Gallagher's Perspective article Dec. 21, under the headline, "Quarrel over Mary threatens unity."

Therefore, it is important to clarify the historical context of the solemn definition of Pope Pius IX in 1854 on Mary's Immaculate Conception and that of Pope Pius XII in 1950 regarding her bodily Assumption.

In his essay, Father Gallagher argues that the proposed dogmas regarding Mary as Mediatrix of all graces, Co-Redemptrix, and ,, Advocate should not be defined as matters of faith by Pope John Paul II.

He goes on, however, to assert that the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption are "unnecessary and biblically unprovable."

He has every right to argue that the pope's new dogmatic definitions are not timely for ecumenical reasons.

I would agree that there are several good and necessary questions that must be settled before they could be considered definable.

As for Father Gallagher's assertions regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption as "ecumenical disasters," however, he would have been better served had he chosen to study the historical circumstance of those 1854 and 1950 definitions.

Such a reconstruction, in my view, would have provided better support for his main argument concerning the new definitions of Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix and Advocate by examining those earlier deliberations as models of proper procedure in such matters.

In my book, "Madonna -- Mary in the Catholic Tradition," I show how carefully Church authorities traced the biblical roots and faith development of these doctrines from the earliest Christian days.

In addition to this detailed theological research, there were general consultations in each instance.

Thus, Pope Pius IX responded to a worldwide movement in the Catholic church at that time to define the Immaculate Conception by sending an encyclical letter, Ubi Primum, on Feb. 2, 1849.

In the letter, he asked his brother bishops whether they, along with their clergy and laity, believed that the Immaculate Conception could be defined and secondly, whether these three groups in the church desired it to be declared a dogma of faith as contained in divine revelation.

The reply to both questions was overwhelmingly favorable, reflecting the belief and devotion of the faithful, as well as that of the bishops and clergy.

Pius IX made the definition more than five years later, on Dec. 8, 1854, only after completing and analyzing this careful survey and integrating it with the extensive scriptural and theological research.

Similarly, Pius XII on May 1, 1946 sent an encyclical letter titled Deiperae Virginis asking his brother bishops whether they, along with their clergy and lay people, believed that Mary's bodily Assumption was definable as the revealed word of God and whether or not they desired it to be defined as a dogma of the Catholic faith.

These were the same two basic question asked by Pius IX in reference to Mary's Immaculate Conception a century before.

As in the previous case, the response was again overwhelmingly favorable.

Pope Pius XII concluded that such universal agreement in the church, taken together with biblical insights and consistent theological teaching, constituted a "certain and firm" basis for holding that Mary's bodily Assumption is a divinely revealed truth. Subsequently, he proceeded to the solemn definition issued on Nov. 1, 1950.

These two defined dogmas have often been called "papal dogmas" because both were solemnly declared to be truths of faith by popes apart from ecumenical councils.

It has been pointed out, however, in light of the number of petitions from the various members of the church for their definition, that they are more properly to be called the "people's dogmas."

These petitions reflected the faith of the Church's members, a faith expressed over the course of many centuries through liturgical worship and further manifested by the joy with which the definitions were received.

#Rev. Frederick M. Jelly


The writer is a visiting professor at St. Mary's Seminary and University.

Rehab clinic ship in search of a berth

As a board member of Project Life, I was pleased to see your Dec. 2 story about our vessel, the Sanctuary.

The restoration of the ship to serve as a center for addicts' rehabilitation is a monument to community collaboration. Government, business, labor and medicine have provided funds and expertise to make it possible.

Because of its unique capabilities, the Sanctuary should be an important asset to Marylanders.

Unfortunately, despite several years of effort, we have been unable to find a permanent berth for the Sanctuary.

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