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Theological Notebook: "The Marian Magisterium of John Paul II"

John Allen's column "The Word From Rome" had a few items of professional interest this week. The following sections dealt with an end-of-the-year conference on John Paul's approach in his exercise of papal magisterium, or teaching authority.
Generally little happens in Rome between Christmas and New Year's, but this year an interesting conference took place Dec. 28-30 at the Teresianum, titled "The Marian Magisterium of John Paul II."

John Paul's deep Marian devotion was well-known; the motto of his papacy was Totus tuus, "all yours," in reference to Mary (The phrase comes from the "Treatise of True Devotion to the Most Holy Virgin" of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.) The three-day conference traced ways in which that Marian interest translated into doctrinal developments.

I dropped in on Dec. 28 to hear Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, outline what he saw as John Paul's main contributions.

The audience was composed largely of Italian members of women's religious orders.

Amato noted that the bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) opted not to issue a separate text on Mary, but to devote chapter eight of Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the church, to Marian teaching. Amato called that chapter "the most important Marian text of the magisterium in 2,000 years," saying it was also "magisterial" in the lay sense of the term, meaning authoritative because of its quality.

Amato singled out four elements of Lumen Gentium 8: its "renewed method," weaving salvific, ecumenical, and liturgical criteria into a "magna carta" for Catholic Mariology; its "Trinitarian approach," treating Mary as the beloved daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son, and the temple of the Holy Spirit; the way it treats Mary as the "eminent model" of the church; and its approach to Mary's "cooperation" in the salvation won by Christ. On this final point, Amato said that Lumen Gentium avoided "soteriological symmetry" between Mary and Christ, treating her instead as the "first fruit" of his redemption.

In the end, Amato said, Vatican II left a Mariology "rich with promise" which John Paul carried forward, following what Amato called a "winter in Mariology" from 1964-74.

The heart of John Paul's thought, Amato said, was "Trinitarian Christocentrism," in which "all the elements of the faith, and mission of the church are brought back to Christ." This was also the approach, Amato said, that John Paul took with Mary -- "back to Christ."

Hence 1987's Redemptoris Mater, in which John Paul argued that calling Mary mediator "does not diminish the lone mediation of the Redeemer, but rather adds to it." Or 1994's Tertio Millenio Adveniente, in which Mary is presented as a model of lived faith and a "woman of hope."

Amato noted that John Paul also unfolded his Marian teaching in a cycle of catechetical lessons during his weekly General Audiences stretching from 1995 to 1997, a total of 70 lessons in three parts.

Amato summed up John Paul's contributions in three points:
• Confirming the "Marian note" of the church, beginning with the Incarnation;
• DevelopingVatican II, especially in his treatment of the title "mediator" in Redemptoris Mater;
• Leading all Christians, including those outside the Catholic church, to a "new deepening and openness" to Mary.
Amato said John Paul also brought a new focus to Marian spirituality, bestowing "legitimacy" upon it as a form of Christian experience, which is not a competitor or a parallel to a spirituality focused on Christ.

"According to John Paul, a Marian spirituality means the experience of configuration to Christ according to the example of Mary, and with the help of Mary," Amato said.

Amato said that John Paul also gave the rosary, once considered a prayer of the humble and illiterate, a new dignity. Among other things, he cited John Paul's decision to add five new "luminous" mysteries.

"Each throws light on the mystery of man, in light of the plan of creation and redemption," Amato said.

Finally, Amato said John Paul had also contributed to an "adult and mature" Marian spirituality through his emphasis on her as a "Eucharistic woman."

"Mary guides the church to the Eucharist, and accompanies the faithful to communion with her Son," he said.

Amato exhorted his audience that this "extremely rich pontifical magisterium" should not be a "dead letter," but should be "assimilated, lived, applied and taught."

* * *

In recent years some theologians have argued for what might be called a "minimalist" reading of the hierarchical magisterium. One theory in the mid-1990s, for example, suggested that the magisterium's role be understood as "guaranteeing the rules of discussion" for reflection on ecclesial praxis, a bit like a host at a presidential debate rather than an authoritative teacher.

In his Dec. 28 remarks, Amato offered a more "maximalist" reading.

"The magisterium is the power conferred by Christ to the apostles and the successors to the apostles to expound and defend authentic doctrine, as a means of salvation intrinsically connected to the salvation of peoples," he said.

Amato urged Catholics to sentire cum ecclesia, "think with the church," rather than to dissentire ab ecclesia, "dissent from the church."

"The magisterium is the truth of God, the word of God, for the culture of today," Amato said.

"Speculative journals can often mislead without solid criteria of discernment," he told the sisters. "True updating is done by the magisterium … True inculturation is done by the magisterium of the church, not in our laboratories."
Tags: ecclesiology, historical, john paul ii, magisterium, theological notebook
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