Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

[A small addition has been made to this post to clarify a point. – Funky]

I have a question for my fellow Catholics on this the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Why did the Church find it necessary to define the Marian dogmas as such? Shouldn’t dogma be limited to those articles of faith which are absolutely required for salvation? As far as I know, no authentic orthodox Christian church requires belief in the Marian dogmas for salvation. Though Tradition can supplement and even interpret Scripture, it cannot contradict Scripture. Scripture states quite clearly that faith in Jesus Christ is what’s needed for salvation. One could also argue that participation in the sacraments is needed, too, but that’s another post. Put succinctly, if it’s not in the accepted creeds, it’s not, strictly speaking, necessary, though it may be appropriate or even laudable.

My faith is not affected, for good or ill, by whether or not Mary was conceived without sin. Nor is it affected by her bodily assumption into Heaven. I accept these dogmas as a faithful and obedient Catholic, but I do not understand why they are important.

Could someone please explain why they were defined? In particular, why couldn’t they remain at the level of doctrine rather than be promoted to dogma? I’ve heard that the Orthodox agree that Mary was conceived without sin, but were uncomfortable about declaring as dogma. Since the Orthodox Church is the only other Church we recognize as maintaining the Deposit of Faith, their discomfort gives me pause.

On a related note, where does the tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity come from? I know the words for "brother" and "sister" in Scripture can mean "cousin" or other relatives, but what evidential support do we have for this interpretation?

Comments 6

  1. Jerry Nora wrote:

    “Orthodoxy and the Bodily Assumption of the Theotokos”–posted on Pontifications on 8/20/04. Let me know what you think of it. Please note that the comments are just as interesting as the actual excerpt.

    Posted 09 Dec 2004 at 2:28 pm
  2. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Again, on Pontifications, there some good Orthodox perspectives on this. I’d also recommend “Mary: Mirror of the Church” as a very traditional, but balanced reading of Mary that takes into account Protestant and Orthodox perspectives.

    Re., Orthodox, my impression is that they hate defining things unless they must. Rome is also notorious for keeping tight-lipped about issues and taking its time before saying something. I suppose that out here in the analytical West, with plenty of unfriendly philosophy and theology departments in Universities, the pope has felt compelled to formally define these things. Having read that aforementioned book on Mariology, I’m much more comfortable with these dogmas, and do believe that good Mariology is ultimately Christology.

    Also from that book and elsewhere, I get the impression that the Orthodox may not be uncomfortable about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (remember, they believe it, they just haven’t formally defined it yet in a council) but rather the use of papal infallibility per se. JPII has since called for Orthodox theologians (in “Ut Unum Sint”–“That They may be One”)to consult with him on how papal iinfallibility could be construed in an Orthodox-friendly way. “You are Peter” is a recent book by Olivier Clement–an Anthiochian Orthodox convert from atheism–that rises to that challenge. First Things recently reviewed it and gave it a glowing review.

    Posted 09 Dec 2004 at 2:25 pm
  3. Russ wrote:

    Cover story in Crisis touches on your question. All Marian dogmas are important because they speak to a truth about Christology and who Jesus is. Church had to proclaim Mary as the Mother of God because Nestorius denied that there was a union of the wills of Jesus and that only the human will underwent suffering. If God doesn’t suffer => no redemption.

    The perpetual virginity has been taught since the 4th century, and the title ‘ever-virgin’ was part of liturgy since the 2nd century. The belief can’t be proved but it is fitting when considering the parallels between Mary and the Church, being unstained, totally consecrated to God. Also, the Ark of the Covenant was never entered by man. It doesn’t directly contradict any Scripture. The best explanation of the ‘brothers and sisters’ issue come from a first marriage of Joseph. (Tradition holds Joseph being much older) Epiphanius gives this view in the 4th century.
    3 arguments in favor:
    Siblings appear to be older, assuming authority over Jesus: advising him and attempting to stop his ministry. Younger Jewish siblings wouldn’t dare talk to the first-born like that.

    Apocryphal writings take this scenario to be fact: Gospels of Thomas/Peter, Protoevangelium of James

    Mark refers to Jesus as “son of Mary” as if to distinguish from the sons of Joseph. No other explanation for deviating from Jewish custom of identifying by the father.

    Another point mentioned in the Crisis article, Mary is shocked when Gabriel mentions that she would conceive a son. Unlikely for a bride-to-be to be surprised at the mention of future children unless she had taken a vow of virginity.

    Posted 10 Dec 2004 at 2:47 am
  4. Amy wrote:

    I was just talking about Mary with my 5th graders this past Sunday and I have some thoughts for you but Matt & I have to get ready for Mass & RCIA… I’ll blog about it when I get back.

    Posted 08 Dec 2004 at 11:25 pm
  5. Amy wrote:

    Ok.. my thoughts are up on my alternate blog (listed as my homepage this time).
    Some food for thought… your faith may be unaffected, but perhaps your salvation is. 😉

    Posted 09 Dec 2004 at 4:00 am
  6. Steve N wrote:

    Umm… err… I think that dogma, for Catholics at least, is limited to “those articles of faith which are absolutely required for salvation.” And um… I think therefore the Marian doctrines rise to that level.

    Though I must confess that I, as a tortured Evangelical Protestant, cannot see how such doctrines factor in, other than the fact that the Church says you gotta believe ’em.


    Posted 08 Dec 2004 at 11:50 pm

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