The Assumption

Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S., recalled that in the hierarchy of truths the Church posited some dogmas as more central to Christian faith than others. It is only when Marian dogmas are primarily Christological, such as in the declaration of her divine maternity, would they be ranked high on the hierarchical list of truths. Otherwise, they would simply reflect the application of redemptive grace within the Church to its most prominent citizen. 

Protestant theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg observed that Our Lady should play an important part in any ecumenical discussion because of her importance in the life and the devotion of the Catholic Church, which some Protestants see as a principal obstacle to unity. In 1967, Pannenberg went on to say,   

If we expect Roman Catholics to be flexible and open to change regarding their Mariological dogmas, we too must make a much more serious effort to understand structures of thought which seem strange to us. Only in this way can Christians begin to envision a new and true Catholic Mariology which is neither a foreign imposition upon evangelical thought nor an intolerable break in the continuity of Roman Catholic thought.  

Anglican theologian John Macquarrie believed that the term “hierarchy of truths” is not entirely accurate. Christian truth, although we express it in a number of doctrines, is really one; and because it is really one, all of these doctrines are mutually implicative or coinherent. Macquarrie insists that Marian truth provides precious insight into that one essential truth that deals with God in Christ. He writes, “It is not, therefore, innovative, perverse or pointless. I think that its essential truth, its ‘governing intention,’ is a clear implicate of basic Christian doctrines which we all accept.” 

The subject of Mary is seen, not in isolation but in the context of other related truths, which share a common source, distinct but inseparable; truths which form concentric circles that interact with each other. In the preface of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book, The Threefold Garland, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis comments, “The unity of the Paschal Mystery is certainly the determining source of this vision. . .and, in extending this principle of concentric unity to all the mysteries of faith, von Balthasar . . .is exhibiting his theological obedience to the actual manner God has chosen to redeem humankind, a manner reflecting the very interior nature of God himself.” 

Mary Assumed, Mother of God, must be seen in her relation to the soteriological mysteries of her Son. The goal of the Church and of the individual is to enter into the reality that Mary already possesses: she is the handmaid of the Lord, especially in her glorification. Consequently, Mary cannot possibly be a goal or purpose in herself. 

One circle within the hierarchy represents the real Christ; another represents the real Mary. Yet by God’s decree these circles cannot be separated from one another. By His very nature the circle of the Eternal Word contains the creature, His mother. By the free grace of God, Mary comes in turn to contain her Creator. 

The Eastern Liturgy states, “You are wider than the heavens, for within yourself you have confined the unconfinable God.” St. Catherine of Siena said, “We are Your image and you are our image.” Mary, the human Mother of the Verbum Dei, made God’s suffering and ultimately the entire act of redemption a possibility:  

The uncreated Lord cannot have a Mother; the redeeming Lord must. And, because there are not two lords but one Lord, Mary inexplicably becomes both the Mother of God and the Mother of all those redeemed by the incarnate God, who wills that humankind should receive from Mary the life He has deposited in her corporeally. But because this life is actually himself, no one can be found in Christ who is not also found in Mary. 

John Macquarrie placed the Immaculate Conception in the context of the hierarchy of truths. He discussed how, while the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception may not rank high on the hierarchy, they are nevertheless logical implications of dogmas that rank higher on the scale of truths. He presented the difficulties Anglicans found with accepting the two recent Marian dogmas: Anglicans doubt the appropriateness, or even the possibility of, defining them as essential to the faith of believers. It is not so much the content as it is the form of dogmatic expressions that disturbs these theologians. 

He stated that the typical appeal to Scripture, Tradition, development and reason, while appropriate in the case of the major Christian doctrines, is inappropriate in regard to those that are lower in the hierarchy. The test for such doctrines is to consider whether they form part of the one truth of Christianity; that is, whether they are implications of doctrines which are found in Scripture and which are acknowledged in the universal Tradition of the Church. He proposed to establish the truth of the Immaculate Conception by demonstrating that it is, in fact, like the Assumption, an implication of other Christian truths. 

He accomplishes this by removing theology from the language of the 19th century and personalizing it, looking for the “governing intention.” In this case, conception cannot be understood as a biological event, but must be seen theologically as the absolute origination of a person. 

Mary was conceived in the mind of God to be that moment in history when the human race would be so cleared of sin and filled with grace that it would be ready to receive the gift of himself. Long before her historical conception, Mary was conceived and sanctified in the mind of God, bringing the universal and particular together. TP

FATHER DUGGAN, who died March 7, 2007, was a graduate of the Jesuit School of Theology in the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., and the Pontifical Marianum Research Institute at the University of Dayton.