Marian Controversy at the Second Vatican Council



In light of continued discussion regarding why the treatment of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Second Vatican Council was not awarded its own chapter, but rather was included as a final chapter in the Council’s document on the Church (Lumen Gentium), we provide the following commentary by the respected journalist Fr. Ralph Wiltgen, S.V.D., on the specific details of the process that led to the placement of the Marian schema in the document on the Church. – Ed.


Throughout the preparatory stages of the Council, the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary was alternately treated independently and as a chapter of another schema.

In January, 1963, following the close of the first session, the Coordinating Commission ruled at its first meeting that the schema “on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, is to be treated independently of the schema on the Church.” Because of this decision, the schema was reprinted and distributed to the Council Fathers, together with eleven others, before the second session. The only difference was in the wording of the title. Originally the title had read, “On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men”; now it read, “On the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.”

An additional note on the title page specified that “the text will be changed only after suggestions are made by the Council Fathers.”


When the German and Austrian Council Fathers received their copies of the schema, they asked Father Rahner to prepare comments on it for presentation at the forthcoming Fulda conference.


According to Father Rahner, whose written comments were distributed to all participants in the conference, the schema as then drafted was “a source of the greatest concern” for himself and for Fathers Grillmeier, Semmelroth and Ratzinger, who had also examined it from a theological point of view. Were the text to be accepted as it stood, he contended, “unimaginable harm would result from an ecumenical point of view, in relation to both Orientals and Protestants.” It could not be too strongly stressed, he said, “that all the success achieved in the field of ecumenism through the Council and in connection with the Council will be rendered worthless by the retention of the schema as it stands.”


It would be too much to expect, continued Father Rahner, that the schema on the Blessed Virgin could be rejected as simply as the schema on the sources of revelation. It should therefore be urged “with all possible insistence” that the schema on the Blessed Virgin be made either a chapter or an epilogue of the schema on the Church.


“This would be the easiest way to delete from the schema statements which, theologically, are not sufficiently developed and which could only do incalculable harm from an ecumenical point of view. It would also prevent bitter discussion.”

Father Rahner contended further that the schema as it stood used “tactics which objectively are not honorable,” since “it declares that there is no intention of defining new dogmas, and at the same time presents certain teachings as though they already belonged to the doctrine of the Church, although they are not as yet dogmas and, from a modern theological standpoint, cannot become dogmas.”


What he attacked especially was the schema’s teaching on the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the title “Mediatrix of all graces,” which it gave the Blessed Virgin. This teaching was not proposed as a dogma of faith, but rather as a doctrine commonly held by Catholics. Although the teaching was supported by many pronouncements of the ordinary teaching authority of the Church, especially by recent papal encyclicals, “this doctrine must nonetheless be carefully pondered anew,” for the schema would have “great influence on Mariology and on the devotion of the faithful to Mary.” If the word “mediation” were to be used at all, it must be most clearly defined.


Father Rahner painstakingly listed for the German and Austrian Council Fathers precisely what he felt should be changed or omitted in the existing schema. The whole substance of the schema, he contended, could be stated “without stirring up these difficulties and dangers.” And he suggested by way of conclusion that “the bishops of Austria, Germany and Switzerland” should consider themselves “forced to declare openly” that they could not accept the schema in its present form.


The Fulda conference adopted his suggestions with one major exception. He had been opposed to leaving the title “Mediatrix” in the text. But the proposals eventually submitted to the General Secretariat of the Council by the Fulda conference read as follows: “By far the greater part of the Council Fathers of Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia are not absolutely opposed to retaining the words ‘Mediatrix’ and ‘mediation’ in the schema. However, it seems desirable that the expression, ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ should not be used.” These expressions, the Council Fathers explained, would raise the problem as to how the Virgin could be the Mediatrix of the sacramental graces flowing from the very nature of the sacraments themselves, “a question which might well be avoided.” They added, nevertheless, that the Theological Commission should weigh the reasons given by the minority for excluding the terms “Mediatrix” and “mediation” from the schema altogether.


The proposal officially submitted by the Fulda conference to the General Secretariat of the Council also quoted from Protestant writings. Bishop Dibelius, of the Germ