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Is it time for a 5th Marian dogma?
Posted By Eric Sammons On March 4, 2010 @ 9:25 am In Our Lady | Comments Disabled
Zenit is reporting that there will soon be a forum at the Vatican to discuss the possibility of a 5th Marian dogma . Note that this forum, although including bishops and theologians from around the world, is not actually sponsored by any Vatican congregation, but instead by Inside the Catholic magazine and St. Thomas More College. So whereas it might be influential, it is not an official meeting of the Church.
What does it mean to have a “5th Marian Dogma”? To understand this possibility, let’s first review the existing four Marian dogmas and also what exactly is a “dogma”.
A dogma is a defined belief of the Church which must be believed by all Catholics. It is not open to debate and it is considered infallible by virtue of the grace given to the Church to define beliefs definitively. There are many beliefs that are common among Catholics, but not all of them are dogma. Some – such as limbo – have even been very commonly held, but later determined to not be adequate in explaining a specific mystery. But dogmas are irreformable.
With that said, the first four Marian dogmas are:
(1) Mary is the Mother of God (“theotokos”): At the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church declared that Christ is one divine person (the person of God the Son) and therefore Mary can be properly called the Mother of God.
(2) Mary is perpetually a virgin – before, during and after her pregnancy: Most Christians accept that Mary was a virgin before she conceived Christ, but the Church at the First Lateran Council in 649 defined that she also was a virgin during and after his birth as well.
(3) Mary was immaculately conceived: Pope Pius IX infallibly defined in 1854 that Mary, by the grace of God, was conceived without the stain of original sin.
(4) At the end of her life, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven: In 1950, Pope Pius XII infallibly declared that Mary received the singular grace of being assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.
These are the only four dogmas related to Mary. Obviously, there are many other beliefs surrounding the Blessed Virgin, but these four are the only ones to which we must give our full consent of the intellect and will.
But in recent decades, many have noticed what they believe to be a “hole” in the Marian dogmas. The four dogmas define special graces given to Mary in her life, but they do not answer the question: what is the relationship of the Blessed Mother to me? How does she help each person on the path to salvation? Mary has been integral to the salvation of countless souls over the years, so some have asked if there is a need to define her role in salvation history.
To that effect, there is a movement to make a three-fold definition about Mary as the “5th Marian Dogma”. This three-fold definition would be that Mary is:
In meaning of “co-” in this term is “with”, so this term means “the woman with the Redeemer”. Those who advocate this title for Mary note that she had a unique role as the New Eve in the Redemption. By her fiat, she gives the body to the Redeemer. Furthermore, she uniquely united her suffering with the suffering of Christ’s Passion. Although this title might at first sight seem blasphemous on the surface, note that all of us are called to be “co-redeemers” with Christ, as we should offer up our sufferings in union with Christ’s for the salvation of the Body (cf. Col. 1:24).
(2) Mediatrix of all graces
Proponents of this title state that Mary has a role in distributing all the graces merited by Christ in our redemption. As each person can be a mediator of graces to others by praying for them and suffering for them, Mary uniquely has the job of being the mediator of all Christ’s graces.
There is a strong tradition within the Church which has seen Mary as the advocate par excellence – she is constantly pleading for us to the Father. Every saint in heaven prays for us, but Mary, as the unique vessel of the Son, has a special power in her prayers and she uses that for our benefit.
Although there are many prominent theologians, bishops and even cardinals (along with millions of the faithful) who are pushing for this new dogma, there are also many who oppose it. The main reasons argued against these definitions are two-fold:
(1) They would damage ecumenical relations: Those of us in Protestant America instinctively see the issue these definitions would have, especially the first two. On the surface, they appear to deny the unique role of Christ as our redeemer and mediator. Regardless of what the titles really mean, many people would automatically assume an understanding of them which opposes the clear words of Scripture on this matter. (Note that the Orthodox would also have serious issues with these definitions as well and so their definition could harm relations with them).
(2) They would be easily misunderstood by the Catholic faithful: It seems obvious that many non-Catholics would misunderstand these titles, but it is also quite possible that many Catholics would as well. Some argue that there is a danger that over time these titles would create an improper understanding of Mary’s role in salvation which would obscure the unique role given to Christ. There have been heresies in the past which have elevated Mary to divine status, and also some practices over the years which do the same on a practical level, so some fear that these titles might foster that type of error again.
What is the real possibility of these three-fold titles actually being proclaimed as dogma? Under the pontificate of John Paul II, many believed it was imminent. During the 1990′s you heard a number of people proclaiming that he would define them by the year 2000. But of course that did not happen. In recent years the movement seems to have cooled, and that might be because Pope Benedict seems less receptive to them. Not that he necessarily opposes the titles (to my knowledge, he has not commented on them), but instead that he is less likely to take a such a radical step, unlike his predecessor, who was known to be more open to such measures.
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 a forum at the Vatican to discuss the possibility of a 5th Marian dogma: http://www.zenit.org/article-28508?l=english
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