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Mary Coredemptrix and the Second Vatican Council

11. Dezember 2002 in English, keine Lesermeinung
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An Interview with Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins.

Q. In an interview given to Zenit on 24 November 2002 Father Angelo Amato, S.D.B. was asked what he thought about a proposed dogmatic definition of Mary as Coredemptrix. In replying he stated that more important than his opinion is the magisterium of the Church and, in this case, that of the Second Vatican Council. Would you care to comment?

Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins: I am in total agreement with Father Amato that the magisterium is far more important than our private theological opinions. I have studied the magisterium on Mary’s active role in the work of our redemption at length and have published a major essay on this topic: "The Mystery of Mary the Coredemptrix in the Papal Magisterium," (cf. www.voxpopuli.org), as well as two studies on Pope John Paul II’s teaching on this issue: "Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on Marian Coredemption" (cf. www.voxpopuli.org) and "Pope John Paul II’s Ordinary Magisterium on Marian Coredemption: Consistent Teaching and More Recent Perspectives," in Mary at the Foot of the Cross -- II: Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2002) 1-36; also published in Divinitas XLV «Nova Series» (2002) 153-185.

I would comment further that the documents of the Second Vatican Council are surely an important point of reference on many issues, but are not necessarily “the last word” on them. In fact the introduction to chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium states that this sacred synod “does not intend to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us” (# 54). The question of Mary as Coredemptrix, which was very much discussed at the time of the Council, is surely one of those questions.

Q. Father Amato said that the Second Vatican Council considered the hypothesis of a dogmatic declaration on Mary as Coredemptrix and discarded it. Is that a fair appraisal of the situation?

Msgr. Calkins: I’m afraid not. The situation at the Council – and especially behind the scenes – was far more complex. The fact is that many Bishops entering the Council wanted a statement on Mary as Coredemptrix and/or Mediatrix of all graces (the concepts are intimately related) and some even wanted a dogmatic definition on the matter. Let me make several points here.

1. As I already mentioned in an earlier interview: The first draft of the document that would eventually become chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium explicitly acknowledged the legitimacy of the term Coredemptrix as applied to Our Lady, but refrained from using it so as not to cause undue problems with our Protestant brothers and sisters. I believe that this was a questionable approach to ecumenism and one which intelligent Protestants could readily see through, but the restriction was adhered to in the writing of Lumen Gentium chapter 8.

2. I look forward to a study which analyzes the way this issue was dealt with in the Council by Father Alessandro Apollonio, F.I. which is to appear in Mary at the Foot of the Cross – III, but this much is already quite clear: there was never a vote on the Council floor which dealt specifically and only with Mary as Coredemptrix. So the idea that this concept was discarded is clearly contrary to fact.

3. The fact is that the Council did deal with the reality of Mary as Coredemptrix without using the title. Here are some texts: “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life” (Lumen Gentium #56). “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death” (Lumen Gentium #57). “The Blessed Virgin … faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium #58).

4. Even if the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had decided not to deal with this issue in any way – which obviously was not the case – they could not have bound any succeeding Pope or Council in this regard except by a solemn dogmatic definition made with papal approval.

Q. Father Amato states that the titles of cooperation that Vatican II attributed to Mary were “advocate, assistant, helper, mediatrix” [Advocata, Auxiliatrix, Adiutrix, Mediatrix] and that in his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater Pope John Paul II fully developed the title of mediatrix. Would you care to comment?

Msgr. Calkins: Yes. My first point is that the use of these titles by the Council Fathers was not meant to be exhaustive, but rather descriptive, and that the history of the development of this part of the text is a story fraught with controversy and clever manoeuvring behind the scenes on the part of those who controlled the agenda. The miracle is that what emerged was nonetheless a Catholic document!

My second point is that it is to the great credit of Pope John Paul II that with Redemptoris Mater he single-handedly and forcefully reintroduced the discussion of Mary’s maternal mediation when virtually all of the “authoritative” commentators thought that they had successfully buried it. I do not believe, however, that there is any evidence that the Pope would maintain that he has fully developed all that can be said about Mary’s mediation. The great tour de force which he achieved in Redemporis Mater was to begin to reverse the minimizing tendency in interpreting Marian mediation and thus to open the door anew to the magisterial teaching of his predecessors on Mary as Mediatrix of all graces.

Q. In his concluding comment Father Amato says that “in its first document, Vatican Council II does not see in Mary a Coredemptrix by rather ‘the most sublime fruit of the Redemption’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium #103).” Do you think that that settles the issue?

Msgr. Calkins: No. The assertion that Mary is the object of the Redemption is not denied by anyone who seriously upholds Mary’s role as Coredemptrix. As a creature, Mary needed to be redeemed and her redemption was accomplished “in a more sublime way” from the first moment of her conception precisely in view of the role that she would play in the Redemption. Indeed, the very same text that Father Amato cites also states that Mary “is inseparably linked with her Son’s saving work”. This is an assertion that is consistently made in the magisterium about no one except Mary and it is a statement precisely about her role as Coredemptrix! I trust that Father Amato was not aware of his misuse of Sacrosanctum Concilium #103. Unfortunately, it reminds me of Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement:

I wonder at the adroitness of theologians who manage to represent the exact opposite of what is written in clear documents of the Magisterium in order afterward to set forth this inversion with skilled dialectical devices as the true meaning of the documents in question [The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985) 26].

Q. Has the Pope ever made any comment about the Council’s handling of the issue of Mary as Coredemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces?

Msgr. Calkins: Yes. In the course of his Marian catecheses given from 6 September 1995 to 12 November 1997 the Pope provided extensive commentaries on the Marian doctrine of Lumen Gentium – and it should be noted that these constitute a part of his “ordinary magisterium” (cf. Lumen Gentium #25). That of 13 December 1995 is perhaps the most explicit in this regard:

During the Council sessions, many Fathers wished further to enrich Marian doctrine with other statements on Mary’s role in the work of salvation. The particular context in which Vatican II’s Mariological debate took place did not allow these wishes, although substantial and widespread, to be accepted, but the Council's entire discussion of Mary remains vigorous and balanced, and the topics themselves, though not fully defined, received significant attention in the overall treatment. Thus, the hesitation of some Fathers regarding the title of Mediatrix did not prevent the Council from using this title once, and from stating in other terms Mary’s mediating role from her consent to the Angel's message to her motherhood in the order of grace (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 62). Furthermore, the Council asserts her co-operation “in a wholly singular way” in the work of restoring supernatural life to souls (ibid., n. 61). Lastly, even if it avoided using the title “Mother of the Church”, the text of Lumen Gentium clearly underscores the Church’s veneration for Mary as a most loving Mother.

Here it should be noted that the Pope does not speak of the “substantial and widespread wishes” of many of the Council Fathers as being “discarded” or in any negative manner whatsoever. He merely states – in a very graceful and non-prejudicial way – that the context of the conciliar Mariological debate did not allow them to be accepted. This, most assuredly, leaves the door for further development wide open.

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