A New Marian Dogma: Fully Marian and Fully Ecumenical

Updated: May 30, 2020

Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

— G.K. Chesterton, Heretics.

First there was the definition of Mary as Mother of God in 431. Then came the final proclamation of her Perpetual Virginity at the Third Council of Constantinople in 681. And then, over a thousand years later, the Church defined her Immaculate Conception followed nearly a hundred years later by the definition of her Assumption into Heaven. Now, as we begin the next millennium, we learn that over 500 bishops, 40 cardinals and over six million of the faithful around the world—following in the footsteps of Cardinal Mercier, St. Maximilian Kolbe and countless others throughout this past century—have petitioned the Holy Father to define as dogma the triad doctrine that Mary is Coredemptrix, Mediatrix of all Graces and Advocate for the People of God.

The publication of Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations II: Papal, Pneumatological, Ecumenical, edited by Dr. Mark Miravalle, Professor of Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and President of Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici, reminds us, like its three other companion volumes, that distinguished theologians from different denominations find this doctrine to be deeply rooted in Scripture, patristics, soteriology, pneumatology, personalistic philosophy and magisterial teaching.

A major contribution of Theological Foundations II is its ground-breaking and comprehensive analysis of the dogma in the context of the development of doctrine, and particularly with respect to the ecumenical effort. The cogently argued conclusion of the contributors is that a dogmatic definition of Marian mediation is not only demanded by the inherent dynamic of the development of doctrine but is ecumenically invaluable because it brings us to the typology of the earliest Church Fathers (see, for instance, the superb essay by Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner) who are revered by all Christians, thus giving us a new but common starting-point in the quest for unity.

At first glimpse the request for the definition of another Marian dogma may seem not just unecumenical but—worse still—anachronistic. In this past century of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, the mere idea of a new Marian dogma seems almost as fantastic as a debate on the relation between angelic activity and the movement of the spheres. But that century of brilliant freethinkers is also the century of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung and the genocidal bloodbaths of Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. And if there is one thing in common between the philosophies of the free-thinkers and the ideologies of the mass-murderers it is the dogma of determinism, the idea that the thoughts and words and acts of human beings are determined entirely by forces external to them. In other words, the free-thinkers do not believe in freedom.

Against this backdrop, the call for a definition of Mary’s unique participation as a free agent in the divinely conducted symphony of salvation is an affirmation of the greatest relevance: it signifies that human beings have the capacity for free actions, that they are responsible for their actions, that the consequences of their actions have a bearing on both their own eternal destiny and the lives of others. In freedom and responsibility lies our dignity.