de Margerie is a member of the French and American Societies of Marian Studies,
the International Society of Patristic Studies and the Pontifical Roman Academy
of St. Thomas Aquinas at Rome.Fr. de
Margerie is also a frequent contributor to L’Osservatore Romano.
I would like to
explain briefly here the situation
of the Catholic doctrine regarding the spiritual motherhood of Mary, following
Vatican II and the pontificate of Paul VI; then underline the objections and
problems that would result from the eventuality of a dogmatic definition of
this mystery; offer answers that could be given to these objections and
problems, various possible modalities of such a definition, and, finally, the
advantages it could present to the Church and to mankind.
presented here is an extension of a previous article, published by the
international review Ephemerides
Mariologicae, in 1975-1976; I had then, examined at length the liturgical
argument in favor of the spiritual motherhood of Mary, that is to say, the
signs of the faith of the Church in this mystery, such as they sparkle in
various liturgies of the East and the West (a very precise and technical
later Pope John Paul II acceded to the Holy See. The Pontiff's great personal
interest regarding Marian doctrine and devotion is well known. We should recall
particularly his important address of January
10, 1979, on the spiritual motherhood of Mary. All these signs
indicate, with certainty, that they do not hold any information or data hostile
to the proposal of a dogmatic definition, nor consequently, to the subject of
I.TheSituation of the Catholic Doctrine Regarding the Spiritual Motherhood
Twenty Years After the Council
In the twenty
years following the Second Vatican Council, the Church has given its members
three important documents on this subject: First, in 1965, two paragraphs of
the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium;
then, in 1967, the apostolic exhortation, Signum
Magnum; finally, in 1968, a mention in the Credo of the People of God, of Paul VI.
(1)The dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, in paragraphs 61 and 62,
offers a first definite step in the development of the doctrine, even though,
it is true, certain points remain open to further refinement.Let us restate the text:
The Blessed Virgin...as Mother of the divine Redeemer here
on earth, above all others and in a singular way was the generous associate and
humble handmaid of the Lord, (singulariter
prae aliis generosa socia). She conceived, brought forth, and nourished
Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son's sufferings
as He died on the cross. Thus in a wholly singular way she cooperated (operi Salvatoris singulari prorsus modo
cooperata est)by her obedience,
faith, hope and burning charity, in the work of the Savior, in restoring
supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order
One can see
that such analogical conception of
the spiritual motherhood means essentially a particular and unique cooperation
of Mary, as Mother of God the Savior, with the redemptive work of her Son, in
restoring supernatural life to immortal souls. Vatican II clarified the
transcendent content, hidden within the image of maternity, once it was
transposed to the spiritual and supernatural order: that of a privileged but
dependent cooperation in the transmission of life. Such dependence, in
equality, distinguishes maternity from paternity. It is obviously a mediating
maternity and, in a larger Paulinian sense, a coredemptive one.This is what the following part of the text
This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues
uninterruptedly from the consent which she faithfully gave at the Annunciation
and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal
fulfillment of all the elect....by her manifold intercession [she] continues to
bring us the gifts of eternal salvation....Therefore the Blessed Virgin is
invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and
Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything
from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator (Lumen Gentium, n.62).
We see, in
these two paragraphs, a clear distinction between the two periods of time of
Mary's spiritual motherhood:the time
during which the Virgin cooperated with Christ in the acquisition of the treasure of salvation, and the present time
during which she cooperates with her Son in distributing
based on the Latin text quoted in parentheses, below, - singulariter socia...operi Salvatoris singulari modo cooperata est-, a very evocative echo of the same terms of
the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, in 1854, by Pius IX: Mary
is said to be immaculate by a "particular grace of God almighty" (singulari omnipotentis Dei gratia:DS 2803).Vatican II offers us, on the background of the unique privilege of the
Immaculate Conception, the privilege of a spiritual motherhood, also unique, of
still, Vatican II, by presenting the unique cooperation of the Virgin in the
work of salvation as the foundation of her motherhood of grace, in its
definition of it, goes beyond the notion of a simple transmission of divine
life, to include also the special efforts by the Virgin to obtain for men this
same divine life. The result is that Mary is the Mother, not only of the just
who have accepted this divine life, but also of the sinners who refuse it
still, but are destined to receive it, just as Christ is the Savior even of
those who do not agree to cooperate with Him for their salvation. We can
therefore understand why the same Vatican Council II described Mary earlier (Lumen Gentium, n.54) as Mother of men,
of all men.
further in the same constitution, Lumen
Gentium, n.64, the Church confirms, in the context of the "eminent and
singular" motherhood of the Blessed Virgin (reaffirmed in n.63), that she
became herself a mother "by receiving and preaching the word of God in
faith" as well as in the celebration of baptism:Thus "she brings forth sons, who are
conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life."
of texts relative to the respective motherhood of Mary and of the Church allows
us to better understand the common concept of spiritual motherhood which comes
in play in both cases:Spiritual
motherhood means a supernatural activity, received and subordinate, in the work
of eternal salvation of another human being, by which a created person receives
and transmits to another person the divine life. Spiritual maternity
presupposes divine paternity and human fraternity. The human being who is
elevated to the level of spiritual motherhood receives from God the Father the
possibility of engendering supernaturally those who are his brothers and
sisters in the natural order.
fundamental meaning is understood one can recognize easily, inother passages of Vatican II, the substantial
affirmation of spiritual motherhood:The
word may not be clearly stated perhaps, but the reality is there.This is the case especially in the decree on
the Apostolate of lay people, n.16:
"The laity...conscious of being cooperators with God the creator, redeemer
and sanctifier... should remember that by public worship and by prayer, by
penance and the willing acceptance of the toil and hardship of life by which
they resemble the suffering Christ ( cf.2 Cor. 4:10; Col. 1:24), they can reach
all men and contribute to the salvation of the entire world."
In all these
cases - whether it is Mary, the Church, or each of its baptized members - it is
always an active, free and supernatural cooperation with God the Savior that
contributes to the salvation of men, and to their spiritual regeneration,
having as background the initiative of divine grace conferred both to the
instrument and to the beneficiary of the work of salvation.The image of maternity, distinct as such from
the paternity which has the initiative and from the reciprocal filiation at the
end, is therefore perfectly adapted here.
let us say that spiritual motherhood means a dependent salvific causality.
When, on the human level, motherhood does not participate in fatherhood,
although it is equal to it, spiritual motherhood constitutes essentially a
participation in the divine paternity.
underlined the analogical character of the meaning of spiritual maternity, we
can now study in depth its Marian application.
It is by
emphasizing the actions that the Virgin freely offered at the service of the
salvific work of her Son that Vatican II was able to assert the spiritual
motherhood as valid even in regard to sinners and the non-baptized. Spiritual
maternity, however potential, is not fully actualized. We sense here,
indubitably, real progress, especially relative to the way spiritual motherhood
was expressed before Vatican II. The emphasis placed on the part freedom plays,
in going beyond emotional images, has made it possible to recognize the
universality of spiritual motherhood. Additional information and reflections on
the problematic of definability before Vatican II can be found in the appendix.
We can even
suspect, if not prove, that Rupert of Deutz, the famous medieval exegete of the
Gospel of John, is, by way of Suárez, at the origin of the explanation of
spiritual maternity expressed in Lumen
Gentium, nn.61-62. Indeed, we have seen how these paragraphs emphasize the
relationship between Mary's compassion and Christ's restoration of supernatural
life. Rupert of Deutz explains magnificently, commenting on Jn 16:27, the
following relationship: "The Blessed Virgin is truly Mother to us all
because she brought forth salvation to us all in the Passion of her only
Son."Alluding to Jn 16:21: "Truly woman, truly
mother, [Mary knew] at that hour the pains of childbirth."
(2)Hardly two years after the end of Vatican
Council II, Paul VI discussed Mary's spiritual motherhood in a paragraph that
generated few comments, in spite of its extreme importance, aparagraph from the apostolic exhortation Signum Magnum. The Pope offered there, a
summing up - clearer perhaps than the original - of the fundamental thoughts,
quoted earlier in Lumen Gentium. The
passage contains three decisive pronouncements.
First of all,
"Mary is our Spiritual Mother by participating in the sacrifice of the
Cross."This is the first time -
that I know of - that this concept of participation, key-concept in the history
of philosophy and theology, seems to be explicitly
applied to considering the nature of Mary's union with the sacrifice of her Son
on the Cross. When we agree not to overlook the importance of this concept in
discussions with the Protestant world (unfortunately, not so sensitive to this
idea of participation), we can better comprehend the importance of its
introduction in the context of Mary's association to the sacrifice of the
In the second
place, this truth, of Mary's spiritual motherhood by participation in the
sacrifice of the Cross, is qualified as an "integral part of the mystery
of our salvation."
Finally, it is
declared also that "this truth must be held as a truth of faith."
Here is the
decisive word, the word never as yet pronounced- as far as I know. Here is the
closest declaration of a definition by the extraordinary magisterium. Here is
the ordinary magisterium in its supreme exercise, recognizing a truth as
divinely revealed, since such is the implication of this declaration.Let us read over the original Latin text:
Postquam Filii sacrificium, nostrae Redemptionis causam,
participavit, idque ratione tam arta, ut ab eo mater non unius Ioannis
discipuli, sed etiam - hoc dicere liceat - humani generis, cuius ille
quodammodo gessit personam meruerit designari, ea caelitus nunc materno pergit
munere fungi, quo ad gignendam augendamque vitam divinam in singulis hominum
redemptorum animis operam confert. Haec veritas... e libera voluntate Dei
sapientissimi, parsest expletiva mysterii salutis humanae; quam ob remab omnibus
christianis debet fide teneri.
Are we not
here in the presence of a formulation,offering - in an immediate and better way - the required conditions for
a dogmatic definition, if we compare it to that of Lumen Gentium, still in progress?Besides, we must recognize that Lumen
Gentium, at the end of n.62, has prepared the deeper study in Signum Magnum. In fact, here is how it
The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles
of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This however is so understood
that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and
efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.
No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate
Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and
as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures,
so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives
rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (Lumen
Let us quote
the Latin expressions of the original text: "sacerdotium Christi participatur,...unica mediatio
Redemptoris non excludit sed suscitat variam apud creaturas participatam ex unico fonte
One can see
that the doctrine of participation is affirmed here, both on the natural level
of creation and on the supernatural level in the economy of salvation. It is
clearly stated that Christ himself is at the source of all participation in his
mediation of Redeemer.
of participation stands out precisely in respect to Mary's cooperation in the
work of salvation. The conciliar text contains implicitly the confirmation of
Mary's participation in the sacrifice of the Cross, explicitly confirmed in Signum Magnum. There is, therefore,
perfect harmony and continuity between the pontifical exhortation of 1967 and
the conciliar text, so much so that Mary's participation in the sacrifice of
Jesus constitutes neither a derogation nor an addition to this sacrifice, but
results from the initiative of Jesus himself.
It is also in
perfect harmony with Lumen Gentium
and with its conception of spiritual motherhood, that of Mary as well as the
Church, namely that of a dependent and salvific causality, as we have
demonstrated above, that Signum Magnum
sees in the word of Jesus: "This is your Mother," the proclaimed
expression of Mary's participated action in the economy of salvation.
(3)Finally, a little later, in 1968, in
paragraph 15 of the Credo of the People
of God, Paul VI goes back to the preceding texts alluding only to the
present and glorious activity of Mary's spiritual maternity, without other
mention of past foundations:such as
acceptance at the Annunciation, compassion at the foot of the Cross. This
partial silence, however, leaves whole the already proclaimed doctrines
previously communicated by the same Pope.
We could also
have mentioned the solemn proclamation of Mary, Mother of the Church, by Paul
VI, during the Council, in 1965. We have not done so, because it does not seem
to carry a new doctrinal element, concerning the spiritual motherhood, in relation
to Lumen Gentium. That is the
difference with Signum Magnum.
concluding pages of John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptor hominis did not bring either a new doctrinal element as
far as the 1967 exhortation is concerned, even though they enriched the Marian
spirituality, as an exercise of our spiritual filiation towards the Immaculate.
II.Objections to the Definition of Spiritual
We believe we
could enumerate seven main difficulties which some would present opposing a
dogmatic definition of the spiritual maternity of the Blessed Virgin. Let us
present them here in detail:
If this is a
matter of truth of faith recognized as such - demanding, if such be the case,
martyrdom - for each one of us should be ready to give his life to confess
before men any one of the truths of faith -, a definitionseemsuseless, since precisely, this truth is
already recognized as truth of faith.
Answer:Pius IX offered us
the answer at the time he defined the Immaculate Conception:
The Church labors hard to polish the previous teachings, to
bring to perfection their formulation in such a way that these older dogmas of
the heavenly doctrine receiveproof,
light, distinction, while keeping their fullness, their integrity, their own
character, in a word, in such a way that they develop within the same objective
contents and that they remain always in the same truth, the same denotation,
the same thought (DS 2802).
words, a dogmatic definition, as it is evident in the great trinitarian and
christological councils, perfects the ecclesiastical knowledge of the truth,
for it may not be easy for certain members of the People of God to discern
clearly the revealed truth , recognized as such by the Church with the help of
its ordinary magisterium alone. A definition does not only bring out the
considered truth, but more so helps to distinguish it from related truths.
These advantages are certainly not slight.
of the truth of Mary's spiritual motherhood, extending- according to the previously quoted text of Lumen Gentium nn.61-62 - from the
Annunciation to the Parousia, does it not
reach far beyond any possible object of a definition?Is that not self-evident if the spiritual
motherhood on the one hand is compared with the Immaculate Conception and the
Assumption on the other? The Immaculate Conception is a moment, an instant at
the beginning of Mary's life, the Assumption another moment at the end of her
Answer:Yes, seemingly. In
reality, the initial fullness of grace affects all the earthly life of the
Virgin and her Assumption relates to all her glorious life in terms of the pilgrimChurch.
Remark: In fact, since the moment of the Immaculate Conception and
well before her consent to divine motherhood, Mary is already, in a fundamental
way, our mother spiritually. How is that?In the threefold title of her eternal predestination, of her
foreshadowing in time, and of her longing for the Messiah the Saviour.The constitution Lumen Gentium, n.61, reminds us that the Virgin Mary was eternally
predestined to divine motherhood; now, this divine motherhood is the root of
her spiritual motherhood which, in some way, it includes.
It is this
double mystery of predestination and foreshadowing, in eternity and in time, of
the divine and spiritual motherhood of Mary ever Virgin that the bishop of Ravenna, St.Peter Chrysologus, doctor of the Church in
the fifth century, so magnificently celebrated in his sermon 146, commenting on
Matt. 1,18:“When has she not been a mother, she who
brought forth the author of the centuries?...Mary is called mother and when was
she not a mother?”
The bishop of Ravenna also sees
Mary prefigured in the initial waters (Gn: 1) as the waters of passage of the
chosen people to the Promised Land (cf.1 Cor 10) and finally as the sister of
Aaron, Miriam, celebrating the liberation of the chosen people (Ex 15). By
underlining the fact that Mary is the one who always precedes and guides the
human salvation (semper Maria humanae
praevia salutis), Chrysologus demonstrates well that her "numquam non mater" concerns the
Virgin's universal spiritual motherhood simultaneously with her divine
What, to my
knowledge, St. Peter Chrysologus was not saying, but that we can add, is that
the Virgin, predestined eternally and foreshadowed in time, by longing for the
coming of the Saviour, by imploring him, wished and anticipated her own divine
and spiritual motherhood, thus beginning to exercise her salvific, absolutely
unique service, to humankind.
words, we can think, with Rupert of Deutz and in harmony with the suggestions
of Lumen Gentium (cf. nn.61 and 65),
that the divine maternity itself is directed to the spiritual maternity and to
its exercise, just as the divine Word was made flesh to save us. In the same
way too, Mary accepted the divine maternity precisely for the salvation of the
humankind fulfilling a spiritual motherhood in regard to man, having been
prepared previously by her longing.
It is also
obvious that, in a possible definition, there would be no need to consider the
mysterious exercise of a spiritual motherhood preceding the explicit consent to
divine motherhood according to the flesh.
difficulty is in relation to the extent of spiritual motherhood. Whose
spiritual Mother is Mary? Is she the Mother of angels too, or just of men? of
sinners also or only of the baptized who remained faithful?
problem. At first sight, it seems that Mary is the Mother of the latter only,
since they alone have received and kept in a normal and human manner the
supernatural and divine life.
However, as we
have seen, Vatican Council II and the subsequent documents have avoided this
danger by studying in depth the concept of spiritual motherhood and by going
beyond the mythic and limited character of an imaginative analogy. More
particularly, Lumen Gentium (n.54)
has answered this difficulty by presenting to us Mary as Mother of men,
especially of the faithful: "Mater
Christi, Mater hominum maxime fidelium."
What does that
mean?There is here, certainly, a hidden
reference to a Paulinian thought: "The Living God is the Savior of all
men, especially of the believers" (1 Tm ).The Marian transposition of the Pauline text
by Lumen Gentium n.54 is obvious.
dogmatic definition of spiritual motherhood would not have to worry about
including the angels: A definition is the work of a pilgrimChurch who wishes to
express her concern for guiding the faithful towards the beatitude of the
"viators," (the travelers). The holy angels are not in that category
any more. The Church, however, does not deny that Mary, exalted to divine
motherhood in the order of hypostatic union, has merited, in dependence on
Christ, for the angels, grace and glory, according to the Franciscan school of
denies still less a certain "cosmic motherhood" of the Virgin,
presumed as her privileged role in relation to all human and supernatural use
of the universe or of each of its elements. This magnificent role was
underscored by Saint Anselm.
into all these aspects, it would be sufficient for a definition to use the
formulations of Signum Magnum and of Lumen Gentium. It would underline
simultaneously the human universality and the preferential actualization for
the righteous of the spiritual motherhood of the new Eve, mother of the living
and of the dead whom she wants to bring back to life.
difference of the Immaculate Conception and especially of divine motherhood,
but also of the Assumption, spiritual motherhood does not appear to be a unique
or almost unique privilege; in the case of Mary, the Church, up till now, has
only defined privileges or unique gifts in an absolute or almost unique manner.
Why define as
a truth of faith, with respect to Mary, a truth which is realized in her
analogically, in the universal Church, in the particular Churches, and even in
each of the faithful?
Christ, in the
Gospel (Mt -50), after
having asked the question: "Who is my mother and who are my
brothers?", did he not answer, stretching his hands towards the disciples
saying: "These are my mother and my brothers: for whoever does the will of
my Father who is in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother."
Answer: A possible definition could only be realized if the
spiritual motherhood of Mary is established as a privileged motherhood in the total context of various and numerous
spiritual motherhoods. Such a definition, precisely, would have to demonstrate
the unique character, within a total analogy, of the spiritual motherhood of
certainly true to say that Mary is spiritually our Mother in the Church, by the
Church, with the Church, for the Church and never without the Church. This is
what Isaac of Stella has stressed in his sermon 51: "As there is one Son
and many, so Mary and the Church are only one Mother and many: both are mothers
of Christ, but none of them can bring forth the total Christ without the
other."Nothing is easier to understand if we keep in
mind that the supernatural and divine life is usually conferred by the
sacraments, which are always the sacraments of the Church, and do not overlook
the fact that Mary's spiritual motherhood is fully actualized only in the very
heart of sacramental life. Let us recall these words: Mater Christi, mater hominum, maxime fidelium.
It is no less
true, however, that Mary is the only spiritual mother whose salvific activity
is directly and immediately based on the fact of her divine motherhood
according to the flesh; she is also the only spiritual mother who is the cause
of all others, at the four levels of meritorious causality: effective,
instrumental, exemplary and final. All the other spiritual motherhoods (ecclesiastical
or individual) owe their existence, their activity, their horizon to the
Virgin's spiritual motherhood, privileged and unique. Moreover, among all
spiritual mothers, individual or institutional, Mary is, within the pilgrimChurch, the only
Mary's spiritual motherhood would, therefore, also be to define what is, in
fact and tangibly, a unique privilege of the Virgin, seen within an analogical
totality and the complementary interaction of all spiritual motherhoods. The
purpose and the result of such a definition would be a better exercise of all
other spiritual motherhoods, ecclesiastical or personal.
The Fathers of
the Church developed only the heavenly aspect of the spiritual motherhood and,
within the earthly aspect, the unique cooperation of the Virgin to the plan of
salvation at the Annunciation, but little if any at the time of her Compassion.
But our Church today recognizes also in the latter a basis of her spiritual
motherhood. The Fathers have hardly mentioned anything on Mary's participation
in the sacrifice of the Cross.
Answer: It is not necessary that a truth be explicitly stated in
the Scriptures or the divine apostolic Traditionfor the Church to be able to define it. It
would be sufficient for the Church of today to believe that this truth is
included in Divine Revelation. This is the case here.Furthermore, this truth has a more explicit
foundation in Scripture than either the Immaculate Conception or the
We can say as
much in regard to the foundations of Mary's spiritual motherhood in the divine
apostolic Tradition: Regarding the Annunciation, Irenaeus, Justin, Tertullian,
all of whom are quoted by the constitution Lumen
Gentium in this very sense, teach the privileged cooperation of the Virgin,
the new Eve, in the economy of salvation, hence her spiritual motherhood. It is
therefore, already explicitly present in the ante-Nicene tradition. We find
again here, the famous "principle of association" (principium consortii) between the new
Adam and the new Eve, a principle so much emphasized by Pius XII in the papal
Deus on the Assumption (cf. DS 3901).
As for Mary's
role at the foot of the Cross, it is but a development of her answer in Nazareth, as was
explicitly recognized by the constitution Lumen
Gentium, n.62. The consent of the Virgin at Nazareth applied to
her complete association with the totality of the mission of the Savior,
including her presence at the foot of the Cross.The Fathers mention implicitly but really
Mary's participation in the sacrifice of the Cross. This objection is therefore
The "ecumenical scandal" of a possible
definition. Would it not constitute a considerable obstacle to the very
important work of "recomposition" of the visible and organic union
between Catholic and OrthodoxChurches?Would not the obstacle be even greater in
terms of the reunification with the church communities of the Protestant world?
To emphasize a privilege of Mary would discourage, beforehand, all attempts of
reunification with the Protestant world, would it not?
Answer: It is true that such a definition would raise up, for the
reasons given, vigorous objections, not only among the Orthodox and the
Protestants, but even among Catholics.
it is inaccurate to say that this definition would constitute in itself an obstacle. All the less,
since no reunification would ever be possible without an agreement on Mary's
spiritual motherhood, already held as a truth of faith by the Catholic Church
(cf. see above Signum Magnum). The
definition would state the truth precisely, but would not add any new truth to
those already acknowledged by the Church.
On the other
hand, a certain number of Anglicans and Protestants believe with the whole
Orthodox world, the substance of the doctrine of spiritual motherhood,
understood as unique and privileged cooperation of the Virgin with the economy
of Redemption. Among those, let us mention Professor John Macquarrie (Principles of Christian Theology. London, 1966,
p.254;cf. G.M. CORR, Clergy review,
There is still
more. In 1975, on the occasion of the 7th international Marian Congress, in Rome, the
Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic participants in a Round Table drew up and
signed together the following proposals,that included obviously the substance of the
doctrine of spiritual motherhood professed by Vatican Council II:
-(2): God has
willed to associate in various degrees to the work of Redemption created
collaborators, among whom the Virgin Marywho possesses exceptional dignity and efficacy.
-(3): Mary was
chosen to conceive and bring forth the Redeemer who received from his Mother
the humanity he needed to accomplish his sacrifice on Calvary, as victim
"fiat," which holds a
permanent character, was her free consent to divine motherhood, and
consequently to our salvation.
collaboration was singularly demonstrated when she believed in the Redemption,
accomplished by her Son, and when she stood at the foot of the cross, while
most of the apostles fled.
prayers of intercession addressed to the Virgin have as foundation, in addition
to the confidence that the Holy Spirit establishes towards the Mother of God on
the part of the Christian people, the fact that Mary remains always linked to
the work of Redemption and therefore to its application across time and space.
There is no
doubt that many Protestants would refuse to sign such a text today. They
realize however, that others, believing to be as faithful as they are to the
fundamental principles of Luther and Calvin, sign it.
We can find in
this text, not only the substance of the doctrine of Vatican II on the
spiritual motherhood, but also the enumeration of the fundamental stages in
Mary's earthly suffering and glorious life, of her privileged and unique
cooperation with the Redemption, which is the very substance of this doctrine.
Let us add
that the previous experience of the consequences of the definition of the
Assumption shows the character, quite futile, of the fears that would be
brought about by the spiritual motherhood. We know that Max Thurian, during a
personal visit, asked Pope Pius XII to abandon the project of a definition.
Notwithstanding, Pius XII defined the dogma. This definition did not impede the
promulgation, fifteen years later, in the presence of Protestant observers,
among whom was Max Thurian, of the Decree on Ecumenism by Vatican Council II.
Neither, consequently, was the great development or the ecumenical bond that
We could even
say that by this ecumenical gift the Virgin answered the generosity and courage
of Pius XII who defined the Assumption. This should not astonish us: Is not
Mary, according to the word of Saint
Augustine, the "Mother of Unity," Mater unitatis?
This is the
view that Leo XIII considered in depth already, September
5, 1895, witha particular
joyful language in his encyclical Adjutricem
Will it not be Mary's wish to employ her goodness and
providence to bring to full perfection the bond of unity among the members of
the Christian family, which is the illustrious fruit of her motherhood?... Mary
will be the happy bond to draw together, with strong and yet gentle constraint,
all those who love Christ, wherever they may be, to form a nation of brothers,
yielding obedience to theVicar of
Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff, their common Father...For Mary has not
brought forth - nor could she - those who are of Christ except in the one same
faith and in the one same love; for "Is Christ divided (1 Cor 1:13)?"
We can see
that, for Leo XIII, following Augustine, Mary, far from dividing Christians,
is, by consenting to the redemptive Incarnation and by her intercession, at the
very origin of supernatural gatherings that can exist and will exist in the
future among them; their perfect and complete unity is the very reason of her
divine and spiritual motherhood. How could, therefore, the definition of this
unity cause really new divisions among them?
Seventh and last objection
Is it certain
that, with the Catholics, the truth of Mary's motherhood has already reached
the degree of maturity necessary for its definition? Are there not still
numerous discussions and disagreements among Catholic theologians on Mary's
mediation, on the nature of her association to the redemptive work of Christ,
that is to say, as we have already seen, on the very substance of her spiritual
motherhood? How could the Church define a
doctrine that does not appear to be fully developed?
Answer: A dogmatic definition would not have to enter into or take
part in technical discussions among theologians; it is not the custom with the
supreme magisterium of the Church to do that, or to suppress the freedom of
discussion among theologians in matters that are not of faith; it is exactly
for that reason that Vatican II has stated precisely that it 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"
(Lumen Gentium, n.54).
But it is
obvious that the Church can define, by virtue of its extraordinary magisterium,
a doctrine that it already considers as de fide, in the terms of Signum Magnum clarifying Lumen Gentium, without going into
academic disputes, without pretending that no other subsequent study in depth
be feasible any more. There will always be theological controversies about
Mary, just as there are about Christ or the Trinity. After an eventual
definition of the spiritual motherhood, within the unity of a deeper and more
conscious faith, the freedom of research and theological discussion on many
aspects of the defined mystery will persist.
of Such a Definition
can be identified.
(1)The first possible mode: definition by an ecumenical council.
This is how -
with the difference of the council of Ephesus which
formulated no definition- the councils of Chalcedon and
Constantinople III included in their christological definitions their reference
to "Mary, Mother of God according to humanity."Such a mode of definition would, in itself,
be quite favorable, namely in the context of a christological council wishing
to define the mystery of Redemption
(which has never been done) and of the coredemptiveChurch.Nothing, however, allows us to believe that
the convocation of such an ecumenical council is imminent.
(2)The second possible mode: A definition by the Pope alone, preceded by
consultation with the Catholic episcopate.
in this mode the model followed by Pius IX and Pius XII in the definitions of
the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
consultation could be extended to the bishops of the Orthodox and MonophysisticChurches
examine the essence of the subject, the substance of doctrine, and its
As was the
case in the definitions of Pius IX and Pius XII, the laity could be consulted
indirectly through their bishops, by being invited to bear witness to their
even thought: "If ever there was a case where the laity should be
consulted, it would be in that of doctrines directly related to devotional
expression."He cited the example
of the Immaculate Conception, adding: "The Blessed Virgin is, preeminently
an object of devotion."
for such consultations are obvious.They
could prepare the Church to embrace heartily the defined doctrine.The disadvantages are not less clear. Social
means of communication could seize the specifics of the consultation, and by
creating difficulties within the Churches, try to obstruct and prevent any
(3) The third
possible mode: definition by the Roman
Pontiff alone, without consultation with the bishops, but after examining apostolic Tradition,
Scripture, the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the
tradition of his own Roman Church, indefectible in matters of faith:in harmony with the doctrine of Vatican I and
Vatican II according to which "the definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable
by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church"whose"assent can never be lacking to such definitions on account of the
same Holy Spirit's influence, through which Christ's whole flock is maintained
in the unity of faith and makes progress in it" (Lumen Gentium, n.25).
mode would be, in our case the more concretely realizable since it concerns a
truth already peacefully accepted by the entire Church and more than ever,
since Vatican II, so much so that Paul VI expressed and taught it as worthy of
faith. This truth has not known - to reach the present state of its formulation
- the inflamed history of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. In our case
the Pope would define what the Church today believes without apprehension or
No doubt this
third mode would also bring some disadvantages. One can never escape them! But
that could be, perhaps, the mode that would present the least
IV.Advantages of a Definition for the Church
Let us note
the advantages for each of the members of the Body and those that will be
reflected on the entire Body.
persons would be spurred on in the practice of their own spiritual motherhood,
unique as each person is, but not privileged (as only Mary's motherhood is).
This will mean that each member of the Church could, on the occasion of this
definition, become more conscious of its divine vocation in the practice of
spiritual motherhood, identical to a coredemptive mission, for the
triumph of the only Redeemer, in dependence upon Mary and by sharing her
privileged mission in the Church and in the world. The definition would help
each baptized person to better understand that Mary is, in a unique way, the
Mother by whom each baptized person exercises his/her own spiritual motherhood,
mainly through the apostolate of prayer. We have quoted above the Vatican II
texts that state in substance this divine vocation of each baptized person to
become the cooperator with God the creator, redeemer and sanctifier of all men
and contribute to the salvation of the entire world (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem, n.16).
The Church -
each particular Church as well as the universal Church -would find in this
definition a powerful help for a better contemplation of the mystery of Mary and for a
better practice of her own spiritual maternity, by an increase in the
theological virtues, mainly that of hope. The Spouse of Christ would thus
always share better, in the image and in dependence to Mary, in the
transcendent and redemptive activity, in the spiritual fatherhood of the new
Adam, Jesus of Nazareth.
definition would even seem to be, for the Pope and for the Church, a spiritual
recourse, in light of the present difficulties, and in so doing fulfill better
the plea of Vatican II in regards to a permanent reform of the Church: Ecclesia semper reformanda.Indeed Mary reforms the Church constantly,
since by her powerful intercession, she obtains for her, ceaselessly, to always
conform itself to its original form, Christ, and to allow itself continually to
be transformed by Him and in Him, present and acting in the Eucharist. Mary's
spiritual motherhood is, in fact, constantly reforming the Church. In this
regard, the definition of this motherhood could be seen as an element of reform
in the Church.
definition would express the gratitude of the Church toward the very Holy
Virgin for her unique and privileged collaboration in the mystery of her
Redemption by Christ, the Savior of his Body (Eph 5:23) and of her sorrowful
compassion, at the foot of the Cross. The Church would thus show that she does
not forget the suffering of its Mother (cf. Si ).
definition would also be a logical consequence of the consecration of the
Church to the Mother of God, to her pierced and Immaculate Heart.It would be a sign of the Church's will to
make amends for the insults of so many baptized Christians who forget,
disregard or deny the privileged role of the Blessed Virgin in their own
What we are
saying is that such a definition would bring enlightenment and devotion into
our lives, increase our desire to make reparation and continue to seek reform
and holiness. The Church, if His Holiness would deem it favorable - and he
alone is the charismatic judge of such an opportunity -by way of such a
definition would advance in the knowledge and love of Mary and of her own
mystery, in the consecration to Mary, in the reparation towards her, in the
conformity (reforming and sanctifying) to her.In a word, by means of this definition, the Church would be and become
more her real self.
Facing such a
grandiose perspective and in view of attaining it, we must have recourse to the
intercession of saints and servants of God whose history reveals the connection
with the mystery of Mary, in her spiritual motherhood - as Saint Leo the Great,
who confirmed itunquestionably - or in
her privileges: Pius IX and Pius XII who had the courage to define two of them,
Saint Leonard of Port-Maurice, who recommended to the Holy See to have a consultation
with the universal episcopate on the Immaculate Conception, Saint Antony-Mary
Claret who encouraged Queen Isabella of Spain to ask Pius IX to define the
Assumption. This was the very first petition ever received on this subject; we
know that less than a century later the object of that petition became a
The Question of Spiritual
Motherhood Preceding Vatican II
On the eve of
Vatican II, we know that a number of "vota" or petitions coming from
bishops (more rarely, from academic institutions), asked the Holy See,
especially with the occurrence of the council, for a dogmatic definition of the
spiritual motherhood of Mary, or of her universal mediation.
formulations of these petitions can be found by going through the large volumes
of the Acta et Documenta Concilio
Vaticano II Apparando, published in Rome ( some of
them as early as 1961).
That is how
the Mexican bishops (followed by the Antonianum)
on the eve of the council, August
28,1959, refer to their previous petition of 1954, the complete
text of which can be found in the volume: La
maternidad espiritual de Maria.Estudios
teologicos. This volume was published in 1961 by the national Mexican
commission for the dogmatic definition of the spiritual motherhood of Mary, at
the Basilica of Guadalupe, pp.XXXIII-XLII. In 1959, the archbishop of Puebla de los Angeles, Mgr. Márquez
Toriz, pointed out (Acta et Documenta..
Ser. I, Vol. II, Pars VI, pp. 228-229) that 60 non-Mexican bishops who
supported the petition in 1954 have renewed their attachment and support in
1959as the council became imminent. He
also pointed out that the spiritual motherhood implied the universal mediation.
The text of the 1954 petition did not indicate precisely the metaphorical
aspect of the image of spiritual motherhood.
of the Antonianum (acta et documenta, Ser.I, Vol. IV, Pars
I, t. 2, pp.55-61), on the contrary, expressed it otherwise:We can find (p. 58, regardingGn 3:15) the following clarification that
indicates a perfect consciousness of the problems discussed here: "Pater nunc cum sit spiritualis
totius humani generis semen-Jesus ob redemptionem omnibus allatam, mater esse
quoque dici debet Maria propter inseparabilem cum Filio suo actionem in primi
The wishes of
the Saint Bonaventure Faculty of Theology(ibid., p. 239) express a similar thought.
this long discussion, it is proper to point out that the majority, not to say
the unanimity, of petitions issued by bishops, do not suggest, when they request
a definition, an exact formulation, nor do they offer answers to objections, or
sources justifying such a definition.
But a more
extensive and methodical inquiry in the Acta
et Documenta might lead to a few more subtle observations, without possibly
calling to question the totality of perceptions and assessments developed here.
[Note:The following article is included in this
volume because, as the author
himself has stated, “of the similarities and even partial identity of the theme treated and also because the
objections and answers are by and large the same.”Such points hold an immediate relevance to
the theological discussion
regarding the papal definition of Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate -- Editor].Translated with permission from Marianum,43 (1981) pp. 394-418, B. de Margerie,
"l'Eglise peut-elle définir dogmatiquement
la Maternité spirituelle de Marie? Objections et réponses."It has
seemed useful to include it because of the similarities and even the partial identity of the theme treated
and also because objections and answers are
by and large the same.
We are resuming here, with numerous
enrichments and modifications, a study
presented in Quito(Ecuador), April 15, 1980, to the members of the EcuadorianSocietyof MarianStudies.Theoriginal Spanish text, quite incomplete
compared to this one, has appeared in the international publication Ephemerides
mariologicae 31 (1981) pp.131-138.
Cf. R. Laurentin, La Vierge au Concile. Paris, 1965,
pp.151-168.Note: in this translation all quotes related
to Vatican II are from VaticanCouncilII: TheConciliar And Post ConciliarDocuments,AustinFlannery, O.P. Gen. Ed.,
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota,1975.
PaulVI, SignumMagnum, AAS 59 (1967) pp.467-468; See my commentary in Eph.mar., 25 (1975) pp. 62-66.
Note the harmony between the beginning of
the paragraph (participavit) and its end (pars).
What does the participation of Mary to the sacrifice of the Cross consist of? Certainly in
her"station" at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19,26-27) and in
everything she symbolized (especially sacrificing her maternal rights to Christ her Son: cf. Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35 , p.247), but also in the
participation already implied within the acceptance
of the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, by which Mary consented to provide the
"subject of the sacrifice" (cf. St. Leo The Great, Tome
à Flavien, c.4:DS 294); it is as Mother of God and as Immaculate that Mary took part, in a unique and privileged
way, at the foot of the Cross, in the
sacrifice of her Son;hence the
exceptional value and efficacy of her participation;
we could even demonstrate - but this would go beyond the limits of this study and this note
- that the offering, by which Mary took part,
at the foot of the Cross, in the sacrifice of her Son, included, at least implicitly, that of her future
eucharistic communions (all of which mean as many
real participations to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross) and that of her loving death, yet to come, all of this
offered in union with her Son for the salvation
of the world.
The "quam ob rem" indicates
clearly a relationship of causality:That is because Mary, by
taking part in the mystery of the Sacrifice of Christ, shares in the mystery of salvation, that her
spiritual motherhood is object of our faith,
that it bears, in first place, on the mystery of our salvation just as the Council of Trent has highlighted it (decree on justification, ch.6:
"credentes in primis a Deo
justificari impium in Christo Jesu": DS 1526. There is here, (as Paul VI emphasizes) a free will of God,
impossible to demonstrate by reason,
known only through Revelation: Such is the fruitful participation of Mary in the sacrifice of Christ.
St.Peter Chrysologus,Sermo 146 (PL 52,592 B): "genitrixquando non quae saeculorum generavit auctorem, principium dedit rebus?"
This same doctor of the Church
has expressed elsewhere,in a wonderful way, Mary's spiritual motherhood, in the precise meaning
we understand here (salvific dependent causality),
in these words: "accepit Virgo salutem saeculisredditura," "The Virgin received salvation so as to
transmit it to the centuries" (Sermo
143: PL 52, 583 C).
This often quoted formula is perhaps from St.
Peter Chrysologus; in any case it
presents the advantage of summarizing concisely his thought, in his sermon 146 (cf. footnote 7). He says
(col.593): "Maria mater vocatur; etquando Maria non mater?".
 Ibid., 593 B:
"ut semper Maria humanae praevia sit salutis,populumquem unda generatrix emisit
in lucem, ipsa jurepraecessit in
cantico."The doctor of Ravenna speaks of
Miriam, Aaron's sister, but thinks of Mary, Mother of Jesus, as it is evident from the whole of the sermon.
 Cf. St.
Ambrose, In Lucam 2.19.26-27 (CCL
14,42): "quaecumquecrediderit anima et concipit et generat DeiVerbum, secundum carnem una Mater Christi: secundum fidem tamen
omorium fructus est Christus;” similarly, Augustine
De Sancta Virginitate, c.6: CSEL
41,239. "The context shows that Saint
Augustine was not thinking of a universal
motherhood of Mary", says P.
Friedrich and T. Koehler (Maria,
Paris, 1970, t.VI, p. 570).
 St. Anselm, Oratio 52,(PL 158,955-956): "Maria,
mater rerumrecreatarum...Mater restitutionis omnium."
 Cf. Mt 27,
52-53: A good number of Catholic theologians think that the evangelist demonstrates here
glorious and definitive resurrections, not temporary
ones like that of Lazarus. John XXIII, following many among them, acknowledged in this context a bodily
assumption of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Joseph, in a homily
in 1960, Cf. AAS 52 (1960) p.456.
 Isaac Of
Stella, Sermo 51 (from which another
excerpt is quoted by Lumen Gentium): PL 194, 1862-1865. This
point of view summarizes and synthesizes
St Augustine's opinions.
 In the degree
where, as reactions of many Orthodox facing the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption
have demonstrated, our Eastern
separated brothers are inclined today to criticize the precision, so called Latin, of the
definitions...without forgetting perhaps that the councils of the first millennium, mainly Greek
in fact, have not refused to "define."
 The title of
Father Corr's article is: Mother of the
Church: Anecumenical Title?
 The original
text in French: Oss. Rom.,June 14, 1975; Documentation Catholique 72
192, 2 (PL 38, 1012): "Ecclesia... similitudinemgerens
Virginis quia, et in multisest materunitatis." This affirmation is
directly about the Church, indirectly but really about the Blessed Virgin.
 Leo XIII,
Encyclical, Adjutricem Populi, in THE ROSARY OFMARY,translations of the encyclicals and apostolic letters of Pope Leo XIII collected
by William Raymond Lawler O.P.,P.G.
St. Anthony Guild Press, Paterson, New
Jersey, 1944, pp. 135-140.
 Cf. B.De
Margerie, Christ for the World, Chicago,
1974, pp.267 and 271.
 Card. Newman,
On consulting the Faithful in Matters
ofDoctrine,London, 1961, pp.104-105. One must recognize however,
that there is no strict obligation
for the Pope, to consult, either with the bishops or (a fortiori) with the laity, before defining
a dogma: cf. see texts quoted in the following footnote.
 See in this
regard, the noteworthy doctrinal report by Msgr.Gasser in Vatican Council I, just before the definition of
infallibility, July 11, 1870; in his four hour speech(!).Gasser (Mansi
52, 1216-1217) explained why the Pope could
replace a consultation with the bishops with an inquiry into Scripture and Tradition, this was followed by
a suggestion by Vincent de Lérins: To overcome
doctrinal dissenssions of the present time, one may have recourse to the consent of Antiquity (exconsensione antiquitatis dissensio praedicationis
praesentis estresolvenda): Cf. R.M.
Gagnebet, L'infaillibilité du Pape et le consentement de l'Eglise au Vatican I,
in Angelicum 47 (1970), pp.296 sq. and 448.
 Cf. B. De
Margerie, op.cit. (n.19), all of Ch.
 That is to
say of a greater loving awareness of this mystery. This definition would especially permit a better
understanding of how the spiritual motherhood
is the fundamental principle of Mariology precisely, in so far as it is itself oriented towards and
finalized by the spiritual motherhood: It is Mary,
the new Eve, Mother of the new Adam and of all the living who is the cornerstone of Mariology.
 It is certain
that the Pope alone, or with a council would define, but the definition would be preceded,
accompanied and followed by the happiness and thanksgiving
of a great number of members of the Church. By so doing they would be sharing in the merits of the
papal or conciliar act.
 Cf. Vatican
II, Unitatis Redintegratio, n.6:
"Christ summons the Church, as she
goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she always has need, insofar as she is an
institution of men on earth."
 We recall
that Pius XII consecrated the humankind to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on December