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Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Defining Mary as "Spiritual Mother of All Humanity" - Lambert Beauduin and False Mariology

Pentecost by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Duomo, Siena
On 8th December 2009, the retired Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Cardinal Luis Aponte Martinez, wrote to the cardinals and bishops of Latin America on the petition to the Pope to define the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, under her threefold aspects of Coredemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces, and Advocate."

Here is the Cardinal's letter:

My Dear Brother Cardinals and Bishops,

On January 1, 2008, five cardinals wrote to all bishops of the world to notify them of the petition made by an international group of cardinals and bishops assembled at Fatima to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, in humble request for the solemn definition of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, under its threefold aspects of Coredemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate. Already in the past, hundreds of bishops and millions of faithful have made this appeal. Again many bishops have recently responded. As one of those five cardinals who sent this global petition, I now wish to provide you with an update concerning this universal Church request.

Recently the Philippines submitted to His Holiness a petition for this solemn definition from Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Lagdameo, President of the Philippine Conference of Catholic Bishops, and several other archbishops and bishops. The petition was accompanied by a personal letter from Philippines President, Madame Gloria Arroyo, in which she strongly supported the request of the bishops.

Also representative groups of cardinals and bishops from India and nearby countries, including Cardinal Vithayathil, President of the National Conference of the Bishops of
India, have submitted their own petition for this fifth Marian dogma to Pope Benedict XVI. A similar petition has been sent from Africa by Archbishop Felix Job, President of the Catholic Conference of the Bishops of Nigeria, and various other African bishops. Bishops from Eastern Europe, including Archbishop Kramberger of Slovenia, have likewise sent in their own petition for this Marian papal proclamation. Along with bishops from numerous countries from Latin America, I have sent in our own petition to Pope Benedict for the papal definition of Our Lady’s Spiritual Motherhood.

All over the world, lay faithful have joined their bishops. Numerous prayer days, conferences, individual prayers and petitions to the Hol y Father from the laity constitute a positive manifestation for this potential Marian dogma from the sensus fidelium.

We all perceive a worldwide urgency for the greatest possible intercession of our heavenly Mother for the unprecedented crises of faith, family, society, and peace, which marks the present human condition. We see the papal definition of Holy Mary's Spiritual Motherhood of all peoples as an extraordinary remedy to these global crises which today threaten a great part of humanity. The more we freely acknowledge Mary’s intercessory power, the more she is able to exercise this power for the peoples of the world entrusted to her care at Calvary.

I therefore invite you, dear brother, to join your brother cardinals and bishops from throughout the world in this renewed petition to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, by sending in your own letter for his prayerful discernment of what might constitute a next positive step for the solemn proclam ation of the Spiritual Motherhood of Mary. Thank you for your own prayerful discernment of this most important work in honour of Our Lady, which we believe could constitute a historic benefit of grace and blessing for all humanity.

+Luis Cardinal Aponte Martinez
San Juan, Puerto Rico,

There is nothing new under the sun. In November 1915, the faculty of theology at Louvain, the oldest Catholic University in the world, wrote to Rome supporting the dogmatic definition of the universal mediation of Mary. By 1921, the Belgian Redemptorists persuaded Cardinal Mercier to lend his weight to the campaign, which he did, out of a kind of theological romanticism.

Yet he was also actively encouraging the work of the Benedictine monks at Mont-Cesar (Keizersberg) in promoting the Liturgical Movement, to transform and deepen the spirituality and participation of the people in the worshipping life of the Church at the Mass and the Divine Office. This movement had formally begun in 1909 and central to its work was the distinction between true and false devotion - that based on the Liturgy, the Scriptures, the Church's Doctrine and Tradition, as opposed to that based on merely private devotionalism and its risk of slender resources based on feeling, opinion and current culture. The applied no less to Marian devotion. So piety towards the Mother of God must be above all be liturgical from its roots.

At the heart of the Liturgical Movement stood Dom Lambert Beauduin. For him, a liturgically faithful Marian theology was crucial designing people’s active participation in the Church’s worship to the cultivation of a “true devotion” that could nourish their faith, discipleship, proclamation and mission. And the problem for him was that the devoutly proposed titles, conveying a substantial development of the doctrine concerning Mary's role in the work of redemption - such as "Co-Redemptrix" and "Mediator of all Graces" or "Universal Mediatrix" are not found anywhere in Scriptures, or the Liturgy of the Latin Rite, or in any of the decrees of the Councils of the Church. At stake was therefore the propsect of reconciliation between the Latin Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as the "deviation" of the doctrine of the Latin West from the norms of the 900 years since the so-called Great Schism in the 11th century. He wrote:

In the liturgy we find that we have but one way – none other than Jesus Christ.

Whether in our liturgy or our personal devotions, we must never allow the priesthood of Christ to get too far away, he insisted:

He is our chargé d’affaires … every thing to be done we leave to him.

Otherwise, the temptation is to seek an advocate elsewhere. Beauduin believed that, lacking receptivity to the dogmatic balance of the East, which ensured a Christocentric devotion to Mary, pre-eminently in its liturgy as the fount of popular piety, the thinking of nineteenth century Latin Christianity possessed no counterweight to an exaggerated view concerning God the Son. This left the humanity of Christ in the shade of his divinity, and it had caused people to let Jesus slip away from them. The reaction in both theological circles and popular devotion was a disproportionate recourse to Mary. Beauduin’s work on the Liturgical Movement directly confronted such “false devotion” because it was harmful to the faith of the people and the proclamation of the Gospel that the world could accept. He wrote:

No creature at all can intervene to add any efficacy whatever to the
Redemption of the Eternal Priest alone.

But he had his work cut out, as we have seen. A theologically ambiguous devotion – the Universal Mediation of Mary – enjoyed wide popular appeal at the time. A whole generation of priests, religious and theologians had been formed by it and there was now a movement to have it recognised it as a necessary dogma of the Faith. But it was not in the liturgy; it was not in the Scriptures; it was not in the common tradition – these were the grounds on which Beauduin with all his strength tried in vain to prevent those zealous petitions going off to Rome.

Rome kept to the tradition, of course, not least because successive popes had now committed the Church to the direction set by the Liturgical Movement. But the devotion had got under the skin and it has continued to surface in various forms from time to time. The year after the 1950 dogmatic definition of the Assumption Beauduin reflected:

To assign “an essential role to Mary – the role par excellence – in God’s work of redemption – co-redeemer, co-mediator (where will it end?) – it may be pious,
but it is dangerous. It risks modifying the Christian mystery to its depths.

And he lays the blame firmly at the feet of those whose responsibility it is more than anyone else’s to ensure that the people’s faith and prayer is orthodox - the bishops:

“The Word incarnate is still so far from us because he is God. But Mary, being human, is much nearer to us.” That is a phrase from a bishop’s pastoral letter! … And yesterday I read this phrase: “The best way to be children of the Father is to be children of Mary.” This is a blasphemy to the Sole Mediator.

He did not spare his friends and supporters. In 1951, Léon-Joseph Suenens, auxiliary of Malines and his keen disciple, published The Theology of the Apostolate of the Legion of Mary. Beauduin wrote him a severe letter, singling out this phrase:

“Through her are distributed for us all gifts, all virtues, all graces, to
whom she wishes, as much as she wishes and the way she wishes.”

He makes it clear to Suenens that, in abandoning the Catholic Church’s fidelity to the tradition it has received, he is distorting the faith it is bound to hand on. He reminds him that it is necessary always to distinguish the mediation of redemption - to know that the priesthood of Christ is what unites humanity to the Father - on one side from the mediation of intercession on the other. And thus in the whole of the ancient tradition:

Mary is always in the first rank of the mediation of intercession.

By placing her firmly within the mediation of redemption, Suenens was accused by Beauduin of insinuating an invisible new priesthood above the visible ministerial priesthood of the Church.

At the Second Vatican Council, it is well known that many of the Fathers had been pressed by their faithful to secure a new doctrinal definition on the Virgin Mary, and the long standing movement for the declaration of the Mother of God as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all Graces was prominent. But in the discussions the led to the formulation of the Dogmatic Constituion on the Church, Lumen Gentium, it was clear that this was not the only avenue for honouring her. The refreshed doctrine of the Church placed Mary at the heart and so a popular understanding from antiquity and the Middle Ages was revisited - "Mary, type of the Church". But although it intended to sum up the whole of humanity in her as the New Eve, some Fathers felt that it fell short of her due honour. So the title "Mary, Mother of the Church", with its scriptural and liturgical, as well as devotional, resonances, was preferred. It was not left to stand on its own in a separate decree, but integrated into Lumen Gentium.

The community which Lambert Beauduin founded (Chevetogne), however, prayed that the new title would not secure final approval. for the straightforward reason that “Mother of the Church” is nowhere to be found in the Liturgy and therefore posed an additional obstacle to rapprochement with the Orthodox Church. In any case it was open to significant doctrinal misconception. The Orthodox theologian Alexis Kniazeff has handily outlined the reservations, while constructively examining how the new title, drawing from his own inventive tradition, could be understood positively:

This formula seems to place the Mother of God above the Church. But she is in the Church and not above the Church, considered as a distinct entity. One could even say that she is the Church in that, by dint of her role as Mother towards all the redeemed, she bears within her the mystery of the Incarnation, which is also that of the Church. So she is the mystical centre of the Church, its archetype, its personification, the Mother of the living people called to be the Church, but not the Mother of the Church.

Cardinal Aponte Martinez' campaign to have the Blessed Virgin Mary defined formally as "Spiritual Mother of All Humanity" is devout, but it also stands in a long tradition of exaggeration of the tradition the Latin West has received in common with the East. It risks, at least in the mind of those whose liturgical and doctrinal formation is not well developed, taking Mary out of her true context within the Church. It further risks placing her role within the mediation of redemption, rather than at the head of the mediation of intercession, thus risking the Christian belief in the mystery of Christ.

And even where the devotional titles cannot be said or seen to distort the mystery of redemption - after all Pope John Paul discussed Mary's motherhood and intercession for all humanity (General Audience, 24th September, 1997) - the Orthodox Church, together with the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the Latin tradition of the Church of Rome itself, asks - why define such things as doctrines and add to the accretions that mark our differences while we are trying to understand and overcome them? Why, when we already believe she shares in Christ's work of redemption and mediation for all humanity, is Mother of God and Mother in and of the Church, define what we live and experience in any case through our worship, our veneration, our faith and our discipleship?

For a full treatment of this matter see Arca Foederis (Mark Woodruff) in Further Prospects of Mary, Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust, 2009 Walsingham Pilgrimage, to be published in 2010.

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