Mary and the Pope: Remarks on the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary

 

Prof. D. Theol. Hermann Sasse

41 Buxton Street

North Adelaide,South Australia

Invocavit (11 February) 1951

 

Dear Brothers in the Office!

 

Time and again at various points in the history of the church, in spite of all the divisions, in spite of the confessional differences, which reach right to the heart of the faith, it becomes evident that some unity of Christianity does exist. The proclamation of the dogma of the bodily assumption Mary into heaven in the Apostolic Constitution "Munificentissimus Deus" of 1 November 1950 was felt as an event by all of Christianity, Roman and non-Roman alike, which affects all churches, and all Christians. And rightly so! For this dogma is either true or it is false. Either it really is "divinely revealed dogma, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, after the completion of the course of her earthly life, was taken body and soul into heavenly glory," or this assertion is blasphemy against God. Either it is actually the vicar of Christ who declares in this doctrinal assertion directed at all of Christianity that anyone who "denies or casts doubt," has defected from the "divine and Catholic faith," or the correct faith - who else could pronounce such a dogma as revealed by God and demand its acceptance at the cost of eternal life? - or it is the Antichrist who speaks here, the Antichrist who in this "last," "evil" time, the time in which Christianity on earth awaits the parousia of her Lord, has sat down in the temple of God, in the church of Christ, and seeks to deceive the faithful, and bring about apostasy from the correct faith. Tertium non datur.

 

In view of the importance this decision claims for itself for the eternal fate of millions of men, the declaration denies that it deals with only a human error, as can happen to any theologian, or that it may be an errant decision of an ecclesiastical doctrinal court, accomplished optima fide, as such have occurred ever and again in the course of church history. No, what happened on 1 November 1950 in Rome, with a public display of all the earthly authority and glory of the global Roman Church, and the celebrations which occurred previous to this date around the globe in fall in the north and in the spring in the south, is one of the greatest signs of our times. Something would have been lacking in the picture of our apocalyptic time if in the holy or unholy year 1950 there had not been proclaimed from the mouth of a wise, indeed, great and in his own way, pious pope, one of those "powerful delusions" (2 Thess. 2:11) which with a super-human power seeks the perdition of the souls of men. This explains why on that All Saints Day, all of Christianity shuttered and that the new Dogma of the Roman Church also deeply excited the Protestant world. What does this mean for us? We will seek to make this clear as we treat of the connection between the Marian cult and Mariology and the institution and theory of the papacy. For in this connection resides one of the greatest mysteries of modern Catholicism, with which our church through out the world has to carry on discussion.

 

1.

 

Church history demonstrates that the Marian cult originally had nothing to do with the papacy. The veneration of Mary arose in the east, the papacy in the west. The Eastern Church, the home of the veneration of Mary and the place where it was really cultivated, is thoroughly anti-papal. Thus vehement anti-papalism can be bound up with vehement veneration of Mary, as is the case with many theologians of the Eastern Church. In the east and indeed in all eastern churches, Mary is invoked in the mass, while the Roman mass mentions Mary and speaks of her intercession, she is however, not directly addressed. The famous liturgiologist, Gregory Dix, says of the Marian festivals: "In Rome none of the five great festivals of our Dear Woman are older than 700 A.D. At that time the festivals of the Purification, the Annunciation, Assumption and Birth of Mary were taken over by Pope Sergius I, a Syrian from Byzantium. The Immaculate Conception developed as a festival and doctrine in the west first in Anglo-Saxon England, in the early eleventh century, on the basis of an older and different form of Byzantine origin." (The Shape of the Liturgy, 1947, p. 376).

 

It is common to treat the Council of Ephesus of 431, with its condemnation of Nestorius and the proclamation of the dogma of Mary as the Theotokos, the Mother of God, as the proper beginning of the Marian cult in the church. And this is correct to a certain extent, in so far as this event introduced the great surge of the veneration of Mary. But it is also the case that this cult played no lesser role where the Theotokos was rejected. Nestorius did not differ from Cyril on the veneration of Mary, and the Nestorian Church, which condemned the Council of Ephesus, is in her liturgy and her hymns, if not the classical church, then at any rate, a prominent advocate of the Marian cult. For this reason it is also completely incorrect to make the designation of Mary as the Mother of God responsible for the Marian cult, as is occasionally done. The veneration of Mary began already in the fourth century. The later ever-recurring interpretations of Old Testament passages as types of Mary (e.g. the earth from which Adam was formed, the burning bush, Gideon's fleece, the closed gate in Ezekiel) are found in the great Syrian church father Ephraem, who was born circa 306. He already taught the complete sinlessness of Mary (Jesus and Mary alone of all men are sinless: "For in you, Lord, there is no blemish, nor any stain in your mother," Carm. Nis. 27, written circa 370).

 

At the latest, the oldest prayers to Mary available to us are from the beginning of the fifth century: "All of us in this world look to you and await from you the hope of salvation, O Lowly One! Beseech and weep for us all so that our souls will be redeemed from the wrath to come. Acquire for us grace through your intercession, pure and holy Virgin, always weep for us so that we are not lost because of our wickedness. O Blessed One, intercede for us when you implore your only begotten, who sprouted forth from you, that he have mercy upon us for the sake of your holy prayer. O Holy One, plead with your only begotten for the sinners who take their refuge in you!" (Rabbulas von Edessa, according to the translation of Bickel, Ausgewählte Schriften der syrischen Kirchenväter, Kempten 1874, p. 260f.).

 

Already about the same time the legend that after her death Mary was taken up into heaven was circulating in several different versions. Already at the end of the fourth century Epiphanius discussed the matter when he asserted that the accounts regarding Mary's end could be proven neither correct nor incorrect. These now ever more elaborate legends place this end either in Jerusalem or in Ephesus, and consequently point to Palestinian-Syrian and Asia Minor origins. The "Liber de transitu Mariae" follows the first tradition, the "Book of John the Theologian regarding the departure (Koimesis, which is also the name of the festival in the Greek Church) of Mary" follows the Ephesian tradition. The Coptic Church developed a particular legend according to which the body of Mary first crumbled into dust, then after 206 days arose and was borne into heaven by an angel host (Fr. H eiler, Urkirche und Ostkirche, p. 490). John of Damascus makes use, in a homily for the Koimesis Festival, of a particular form of the Jerusalem tradition (In dorm. B.V. Marae Hom. 2,18) and it holds for the Roman Breviary as a patristic authority. The west took over from the east all theological assertions regarding Mary, including the legends (this is first evident in Gaul, and in a "contestatio," that is, a Preface of the Gothic Missal in the sixth or seventh century, and in the same way with Gregory of Tours, Libri miraculorum 1,4 and 8). And indeed, in the east the Syrian Church appears to have been the origin of the Marian cult.

 

This is of course not to say that Mary played no role in the piety and theology of the western church. Quite to the contrary! Already in the second century we find in the Priscilla Catacomb in Rome the depiction of Mary with the child and the prophet Isaiah, the oldest of the many depictions of Mary in the west. At the same time Justin in Rome, and Irenaeus in Lyons, were developing the beginnings of a Mariology, as they expanded the Adam-Christ parallel to Eve-Mary. We may also assume that the invoking of the martyrs, as we have in their nascent form in the rhetorical conclusion of the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (ca. 203), was also soon expanded to Mary, to which Luke 1:42,48 could already give inducement. But leaving completely aside the fact that the well known theologians came from Asia and brought their theology from there with them, it must be said that these beginnings are indeed not what we find in the fourth and fifth centuries in the east as the Marian cult, and which then began its triumphal march over the western world.

 

2.

 

What is this Marian cult which arose in the century between the first and the third Ecumenical Councils in the Church of the east, first in Syria, then also in Asia Minor and Egypt, and already before 431 had conquered the entire east, inside and outside the boarders of the empire? It is a real cult, not merely one form of personal devotion with private exercises. It is an emerging religious practice in distinct forms, gaining ascendancy in all circles of the church, and also in its public divine service. If one can define Christianity, as it conclusively advanced since the time of Constantine, as the Christ-cult which suppressed all the other cults at that time, then this Christ-cult was now expanded through the Marian-cult, and more generally through the cult of the saints. Churches began to be built in honor of the Mother of the Redeemer, such as Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome in 352 A.D., the oldest church dedicated to Mary in the west. In the consciousness of the masses which now streamed into the church from paganism, Mary, the apostles and martyrs, took the place of the old gods.

 

It has often been noted that there is a religio-historical [religionsgeschichtlicher] correspondence between the popular uprising in Acts 19:23ff. and the scene at the Council of Ephesus. "That Ephesian mob which waited for hours before the council church, fifty years earlier, had still done homage to the great mother goddess Artemis, whose world-famous shrine was the pride of that city. It was Chrysostom (d. 404) who finally put an end to the Artemis cult. And this mob, which after the condemnation of Nestorius, ran through the streets crying: 'The enemy of the Holy Virgin is conquered!', were the descendants of that silver smith Demetrius, who according to the Book of Acts (19:27) stirred up his fellow citizens against the Apostle Paul: 'The temple of the great goddess Diana will be regarded as nothing and she who is worshipped in all Asia and the rest of the world will be robbed of her majesty.' And this mob, which on the evening of June 22, 431 broke out in the joyous cry: 'Honor be to the great, exalted, glorious Mother of God', were the descendants of those Ephesians who not quite four centuries earlier had cried out through the city for hours: 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians' (Acts 19:28,34)." Thus Friedrich Heiler describes the noteworthy parallel (Die Gottesmutter. Sondernummer der Hochkirche, 1931, p. 184f.).

 

The Marian cult was the Christian replacement for the cults of the great female deities, which played such a great role in the life of pre-Christian pagan humanity, the holy virgins and divine mothers, the Babylonian Ishtar, whose cult had already forced its way into Israel, the Syrian Queen of Heaven, the great mother of Asia Minor, the Egyptian Isis, whose favor in the west is testified to by the long use of the name "Isidor" among Jews and Christians. But unfortunately it was not only a Christian replacement for a pagan religion, it was likewise a pagan religion in Christian guise. The Marian cult is the last of the great cults of a female divinity, which made its way from the Orient into the Roman world, since in the second Punic War Rome had adopted the cult of the Magna Mater of Asia Minor. The triumph of the veneration of Mary in the Christendom of the east and the west is based upon the fact that in it lives genuine, deeply religious paganism - for all paganism, which is really genuine, is deeply religious - the religion of the natural man. The natural man is religious. For religion is of the essence of man. This does not mean that man has the correct relation to God. It is precisely as a religious being that man is an enemy of God, the real God. For his religion is indeed the attempt to lay hold of what is God's, to make a God in a way that pleases him. In the natural religion man forms God according to his desires, his needs, according to his image. But such an idol is, however, the image of the female deity. The woman as virgin, as wife [Gattin], as mother becomes the image of God, as the natural man constructs it. The mother is the original image [Urbild] of mercy. Thus in Hebrew the word "rechem", which originally designated the womb, signifies "mercy", even the mercy of God (e.g. Isaiah 63:15). Thus it happens that in the pagan religions the deities of mercy are conceived of as mothers. The only deity of the ancient Greek-speaking world of whom the word "agape" was used, which word in the New Testament designates the love of God, is Isis. In the Holy Scriptures the mercy of a mother is expressly ascribed to God the Lord: "I will comfort you as a mother comforts her son" (Isaiah 66:13, compare 49:15). And in the Bible where the relationship between God and his faithful is described as the archetype of bridal or marital love, there God is the husband and his people, his church, the wife (Hos. 2:20; Eph. 5:23ff.; Rev. 21:2; 22:17).

 

The natural man of all ages, however, perverts God's order. Because he does not acknowledge God as the Lord, and would rather make God subject to him, thus the need for a feminine deity is of the essence of the natural, fallen man. If we may venture to say so, the veneration of Mary rests on this fact. From a purely human perspective, or to judge on purely aesthetic grounds, the veneration of Mary is one of the most beautiful things in the Christian religion. Are there any more "beautiful" hymns than the Marian hymns like those of the German middle ages? Is there anything more poetic than the Marian prayers of the Roman Catholic Church? What profound poetry is found in the Marian legends, especially in the legends which form the basis for the dogma of the assumption of Mary? How beautiful is this death in contrast to the crucifixion of Jesus, or the martyrdom of the apostles! Distraught with longing for her divine Son, she died in the presence of the apostles. Her body was buried, but transfigured to glory and borne upward to heaven. Here all the terror of death is overcome, here there is nothing more of the physical torment and God-forsaken-ness of the death by crucifixion. It is death in complete blessedness. No, it is no longer death at all, just as this life was no longer the life of a sinful man. The departure of Mary is the fulfillment of a perfect life. It is the apotheosis of the man who rises above the angels into a divine life. What Christ is in Arianism, the first of all created things which rises to divinity, that is Mary in Catholicism. Is it an accident that the classic text of Arian Christology, the passage regarding the pre-existent sophia (Prov. 8:22ff.) has become one of the most important Marian lections (8 December and 8 September), and has lead to the treatment of Mary as the heavenly wisdom? If Arianism is the Christology of Greek paganism, is it then an accident that the deeply rooted desire for the divine man - in distinction from the God-man – in Greek paganism, created the apotheosized man in Mariology after the defeat of Arian Christology? Here lies the most profound essence of the Marian cult. Here lies the secret of the power which the veneration of Mary has over men. Christians who have come out of the Catholic Church to Protestantism, without having overcome the paganism which is still rooted in Catholicism, through a fundamental conversion, will never lose their homesickness for Mary. And the modern man, who is no longer a Christian, may well appreciate the Marian cult. Indeed, he has an open or secret longing for it, though he radically rejects the Christian faith. The conclusion of Goethe's Faust is characteristic of this.

 

3.

 

If the Marian cult is thus to be understood, then it is clear why it is such an immense power and why it refuses to die. The human soul is not, as Tertullian thought, by nature Christian. It is pagan, and it is the anima naturaliter pagana [the soul which by nature is pagan], which this cult needs. Therefore neither can it be refuted on reasonable grounds. As is the case with all paganism, the veneration of Mary reaches right into the very fundaments of life, which are not finally based upon or refuted on rational grounds. A glance at a multitude praying the rosary already demonstrates that we have to do with an irrational event. Nor must the profound recognition of the Bible be forgotten, that behind all paganism there are super-human spiritual powers. No man has ceased to think the "Eritis sicut Deus" [You shall be like God] of himself. This is why it is also such a hopeless undertaking to refute the veneration of Mary on the basis of the complete unbelievability of its historical assertions. The assumption of Mary is not rendered uncertain for any Catholic because there is no historical proof for it, or that its historicity may only be made plausible. Every Catholic theologian, indeed, every educated Catholic, knows just how weak is the historical basis behind the new dogma. And the Pope knows this too. This is why his Bull is completely silent regarding the legends of the "Transitus" and the "Koimesis." Another, stronger weapon is needed to refute the veneration of Mary and the dogmas which produced it.

 

We will speak of this later. Here we have to mention yet another basis for the power and the living force of the veneration of Mary, and this leads us to its other side, which must not be forgotten. The Marian cult is Christianized paganism, a paganism which lives, closely bound up in a form of symbiosis with the Christian faith, and from which it draws ever-new power. It is as though the super-human powers which stand behind the pagan religions (I Cor. 8:5), after the collapse of the pagan cults and myths, had taken refuge in the Christian religion. The veneration of Mary draws its strongest power from the faith in Christ with which it is bound together. For the Catholic Christian of the east and west the veneration of Mary is the veneration of Christ, Mariology is a necessary consequence of Christology. Thus it is dealt with in dogmatics as an appendix to Christology. The Catholic Church knows no stronger argument for the veneration of the Mother of God than to point out how in Protestant Christianity with Mariology, Christology, and with the veneration of the Mother of God, faith in the Son of God have pursued the same course of collapse. Has not the Catholic Church in fact become the strongest refuge of orthodox Christology and doctrine of the Trinity?

 

The Protestants treat the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary as the analogy [Dublette] to the dogma of the virgin birth of the Lord, and the new dogma of the "assumptio" of Mary as the analogy to the doctrine of the "ascensio" of the Lord. And they draw the conclusion from this that the Catholic doctrine elevates Mary at the cost of her Son. The Catholics, however, are justified in pointing out that it is not Catholic but rather Protestant theologians today who, completely undisturbed in their capacity as teachers of the church, publicly contest the virgin birth of Christ and the ascension of Christ, as they have been confessed by the church from the beginning, and characterize them as myths. And it certainly is not Pius XII and his Cardinals who are dissuading Christian people from belief in the incarnation, the Triune God and the miracles of the Bible. In which churches then has the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, actually been more fervently invoked than in the churches in which the Rosary is also prayed? We Lutheran theologians must face such questions, just as we can not avoid the question of how it has come to be that the cross, the one time sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, has come to play a greater role in the actual faith and thought of the community in the church of the sacrifice of the mass, than in the faith and thought of many churches which call themselves "Evangelical."

 

It can not be said that belief in Christ demands the veneration of Mary, or that understanding the sacrifice of Christ demands the sacrifice of the mass. It is rather the case that in the cult of Mary and in the sacrifice of the mass clandestine paganism has wed itself most intimately with Christian thought, and forced itself into the very church of Christ. In the words of the bible and the Reformation, the antichrist has actually been seated in the church of Christ. There, where the Supper of Christ is actually celebrated, there the "horror" of the sacrifice of the mass has been swallowed. There, where the God-man is actually proclaimed, believed and invoked, there and nowhere else the creature deifies itself in the form of man climbing to divinity. This is the unspeakable tragedy of church history. All this, which we Evangelical [Lutheran] Christians perceive as pagan and antichrist in Catholicism, this has occurred indeed not merely in one confessional church which is separated from us. For it has occurred there in the one holy church of God, which is indeed also there as certainly as the gospel and the sacraments of Christ are there. Because and in-so-far-as it has occurred there, these things have significance for all of Christianity. No pagan madonna cult outside of Christianity would concern us. No matter how grandiose it were, it would be no danger to the Christian faith, and it would finally have no power in world history. But a madonna cult in which the mother of the Lord is the madonna, is a power in the world. If the Madonna of Lourdes or of Fatima were not identified with Mary, if these fantasies or demonic beings [Wesen] were, as in corresponding cases in the ancient world, treated as independent divine beings, they would mean nothing to us. It is this identification which gives significance to the cult of Lourdes and the cult of Fatima, because they legitimize them with the authority of the Gospel. As is the case in every church, so also the Roman Church does not live from her errors, but from her truths. The fearful thing in her history is this: these truths have been used to justify those errors.

 

4.

 

If the Marian cult is, according to our conviction, essentially Christianized paganism, how could it have forced its way into the church? Which theological error opened the doors to the church for it? Its admission can not be based only upon the psychological and religions needs of the natural man. The new [papal] bull provides an indirect answer to this question, as it seeks to give basis for the new dogma. First of all, it is astonishing what an insignificant role the Holy Scriptures play in the thin [langen] constitution as compared to the encyclical of Pius XII which is filled with biblical citations. The passages which are mustered for the doctrine of the assumption of Mary are from the Ave Maria (Lk. 1:28) and the reference to heaven in Revelation 12; a few Old Testament passages, namely Psalm 132: "Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of they might." [RSV]; and two passages from the Song of Solomon, "Who is the one coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?" (3:6) [RSV]; "Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" (8:5) [RSV]. Already in the middle ages these passages were typologically applied to the assumption. Here we remember that the ark of the covenant is an older type of Mary. Furthermore, Isaiah 60:13 is cited, "I will make the place of my feet glorious," which Antonius of Padua interpreted to mean that the divine Redeemer bedecked his beloved mother from whom he had received his human nature, with glory. Antonius is cited word for word. He remarks on this passage, "You have here the clear confirmation that the Blessed Virgin was taken up in the body which was the abode of the feet of the Lord." It must indeed be said that never has a dogma been defined with weaker scriptural basis. In fact, it can not be deduced indirectly from even one passage of scripture.

 

And the situation is no better with the proof of tradition. The pope produces it as he makes his modern case. His circular letter to the bishops, entitled Dieparae Virginis, of 1946 directed to all bearers of the episcopal office the question whether they judged that the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven could be defined as dogma, and whether they, along with their clergy and people, desired the definition. The fact that the question was almost unanimously affirmed proves the presence of the tradition. "Thus we have in the universal agreement of the legitimate teaching authority of the church a certain and firm proof that the doctrine is a divinely revealed truth, which must be firmly believed by all children of the church." As testimony for the presence of this tradition in the past are introduced the churches which have been dedicated to Mary assumed into heaven; the biblical evidence of her assumption; the patron saints status of the Mother of God assumed into heaven over cities and countries; the rosary and the Festival of Mary's Assumption with its liturgies. There then follows a plenitude of witnesses since late antiquity, among which the apocryphal writings with their legends are not mentioned. It is noteworthy that the pope, just as in the case of his encyclical on the liturgy (Mediator Dei) does not treat the liturgy as source, but rather as witness of the Catholic faith. Thus dogma ever stands above cultus as its regulator. The bull is not able to bridge the chasm that yawns between the earliest descriptions of the Assumptio and the New Testament, or the early church. The only historical argument for the dogma is the consideration that the church never tried to find the physical relics of Mary. Thus the last member of the procession, which has gained ever more momentum in recent centuries, must now assent to the total [dogma]. In fact, there is in Catholicism no "pious opinion" which enjoys such overwhelming assent as the doctrine of the assumption of Mary. No one in the Catholic world doubts this, therefore - that this is the meaning from the proofs of tradition - one can assume that one deals here with a tradition that is a genuine tradition in the sense of Trent.

 

But from whence came the gravity of this pious opinion, which could now be elevated to the level of dogma? Why does the entire Catholic world believe in it? It is not the scriptural basis. That is practically non-existent. Nor is it the evident antiquity of the tradition that makes the doctrine so evident to the Catholic. Its evidence is found in this: It is a necessary conclusion. The constitution points to the correspondence with the other Marian dogmas, particularly the dogma of the immaculate conception, the pronunciation of which in 1854 set in place the impetuous desire for the new dogma. It was hoped that its pronunciation would be made already by the Vatican Council of 1870. Just as it appeared evident to the average Catholic Christian that the Lord Christ, after her death, would take the body of his dear mother immediately to heaven, and not simply surrender the body which had given birth to him to decay; so also for theologians the complete sinlessness of Mary follows the privilege that her body could not simply be left to decay. Then the proof put forth by the pope concludes by his drawing the conclusion: "All these proofs and considerations of the holy fathers and the theologians rest upon the Holy Scriptures as their final basis. They, as it were, place before our eyes the holy Mother of God, as she is most closely bound together with her divine Son, and even shares his fate. Consequently it appears impossible to imagine that she, who conceived, bore, nursed and held Christ upon her breast was separated from Him after this earthly life in her body, even though not in soul. Since our Savior is the Son of Mary, could he, who perfectly fulfilled the law of God, do anything other than honor his beloved Mother, just as he honored his eternal Father? And since it lay in his power to vouchsafe to her this great honor that she be spared the corruption of the grave, we have to believe that he actually acted in this manner."

 

It is remarkable that then immediately follows the reference to the final source of such conclusions, which is nothing other than a false conclusion. The pope cites the doctrine of the fathers of the second century regarding Mary as the "New Eve. Although subordinate to the New Adam, still she is most closely bound up together with him in the struggle against the hellish enemy, which, as promised in the protevangel, finally ends in the most perfect victory over sin and death..." Here what will be the next "conclusion" is already indicated: the formal definition of the doctrine already advocated in countless liturgical and theological documents regarding Mary the mediatrix omnium gratiarum and the corredemptrix. With this doctrine Mariology would be completed in the way Christology has been completed since Chalcedon. But at the same time it is clear where the source of such false conclusions lay which points the way for Mariological dogma. It is a false interpretation of scripture. That Christ is the New Adam is taught in the New Testament. B ut the New Testament knows nothing of a new Eve. It was a clever bit of dalliance when Justin (Dial. c. Tryph. 100) and Irenaeus who followed him (adv. haer. 3,22.4) in their recapitulation doctrine drew the parallel: the obedient virgin Eve and the obedient Virgin Mary; Eve under the tree in paradise, Mary under the cross. Thus Mary became cooperatrix, collaborator in the act of redemption [Mitwerkerin an der Erlösung]. Thus Justin already places her "Fiat" over against the disobedience of Eve. And Irenaeus develops the thought further, which then became the basis of all Mariology in the churches of the east and the west, the basis of all that which we designate as Catholic Christianity in opposition to the sola gratia and the sola fide of the Reformation: "Just as the marvelous fact that in Mary not God alone, but also creaturely powers... have had a causal participation in the work of redemption... So Mary's is not merely a personal connection to the Son of God and a personal salvation, but much more than that a salvific connection to the "many", who through her son have been redeemed. Along with the Redeemer she bore also the redeemed. Thus she is the mother of the believers. The Catholic knows not merely a Father, but also a Mother in Heaven." (Karl Adam, Das Wesen des Katholizismus, 6th Ed., 1931, p. 141f.).

 

Man as his own co-redeemer: This is the secret of the veneration of Mary. To be sure, Mary ever takes the subordinate position. As the immaculate one who receives, she is the object of divine grace. Her assumption is no "ascensio" - Also the Roman Church reads in her bible that no one shall ascend (ascendit) to heaven but the one who came down from heaven (Jn. 3:13ff.; Eph. 4:9) - rather "assumptio" (which the ascension of Christ also is, according to Acts. 1:11, but is yet more). Mary is only the corredemptrix along side and under the redemptor. But she is co-redeemer.

 

5.

 

When the Marian cult is thus understood, then its connection with the papacy is clear. The veneration of Mary originated from the church which as yet knew of no papacy. And it can exist where the pope is rejected. But the papacy has meant immeasurably much for the development of this cultus. It is the popes who made the Marian dogma, dogma. For the eastern church has no Marian dogma in the strict sense. It has produced the cultus: the invocation of the holy virgin, the praise of the Theotokos in the hymns of the liturgy. It produced the Marian festivals, above all the Purification of Mary and the Annunciation, which are properly speaking, still Christ festivals, then the birth and assumption of Mary. It produced the Marian legends and a Mariological explication of the biblical texts. The honorific titles for Mary, the biblical figures and types, indeed, practically the entire theology of the Marian cult stems from the Eastern Church. The doctrines of the immaculate conception and of the assumption are as much at home there as the view of Mary as Mediatrix, which appears in the Coptic liturgy (C.A. Swainson, The Greek Liturgies, 1884, p. 382). The pope has scarcely ever taught anything regarding the Mother God which has not long been believed and taught in the Eastern Church. Only there it has not yet become dogma, and indeed, never will become dogma. This means above all that in the church of the east a decree of belief can never be proclaimed like that of November 1, 1950, which demands, upon the loss of eternal salvation, that the bodily assumption of Mary be believed as much as the ascension of Christ and the other great articles of the ecclesiastical Credo.

 

But why did the papacy espouse this Mariology in such an emphatic manner, especially in recent centuries? One need only consider the increase of the Marian festivals in the ecclesiastical calendar, the new cult of the heart of Mary and the cults of Lourdes and Fatima, in order to grasp that there is something for consideration here other than a religious custom or a personal predilection of the more recent popes, in particular, those who bear the name Pius. It would be quite interesting indeed to consider the cult of Fatima from this viewpoint, as to both its religious-historical and its political sides. But this can not happen here. Suffice it to say that the present pope, in a way similar to Pius IX, has a very personal relationship to this cult, in which for him is found also the key for unlocking the world-political problems of the struggle against Bolshevism. For Mary is the protectress of the church and the conqueress of the satanic powers according to the protevangelium, as the Roman church interprets Gen. 3:15 of the Vulgate, "ipsa conteret caput tuum." "SHE shall destroy your head."

 

The final basis for the Mariological interest of the Papacy lays deeper. M. Joseph Scheeben, the most significant German advocate of the Vatican Council [Vaticanums], once juxtaposed both the great dogmas of the nineteenth century, the dogma of the immaculate conception of 1854 and the dogma of papal infallibility of 1870, as truths which are mutually complimentary. He likened them to bright stars which illuminated the heavens of the nineteenth century: "the Virgin born without blemish as the star of grace, the Morning ....." (die theologische und praktische Bedeutung des Dogmas von der Unfehlbarkeit des Papstes, in Scheeben's periodical: "Das oekumenische Konzil vom Jahre 1869," Vol. 2, 1870, p. 510). The passage is quoted verbatim here because its provides insight into the speculative treatment of such dogmas in Roman theology. The truth of the statement is in the acknowledgement of the deep connection between the doctrine of Mary and the doctrine of the pope. The doctrine of the Vicarius Christi and the infallible teaching office is an expression of that natural religion which ascribes to man that which can only be said of the God-man Jesus Christ. Therefore they both belong together, the corredemptrix and the Vicarius Christi, the Roman view of the Mary and of the pope.

 

6.

 

In conclusion, honored brothers, we may and must comment regarding what we have to do in view of the situation created by the new dogma. This situation is recognized by the fact that the papacy has begun to make use of the full authority which the Vaticanum gave to it. For the first time, eighty years after that council, an ex cathedra decision [Kathedralentscheidung] has been rendered as it had been foreseen in that council. Thereby a beginning has been made. The new dogma which will now be impetuously advanced, and toward which already much has taken place, is the doctrine of the Mediatrix, a dogma which not a few Catholics, especially in Germany, fear, because they do not yet see how it can be reconciled with belief in the one mediator of the New Testament. Perhaps the solemnity with which the much less harmless (for Catholics) dogma of the assumption of Mary was pronounced is explained by the desire to defer a much weightier decision.

 

What is the task of the Lutheran Church in this situation? First of all, it is certainly rejection. For what is said here is indeed said for the entirety of Christianity and for all times. The Roman Church must and will stand by this decision to the end of time. It is therefore quite appropriate that non-Roman Christianity speak very plainly what it has to say. When Lutheran bishops protest against this new dogma it is their right and their duty. But they will only be credible if they first remove the log from their own eyes, namely that fearful laissez faire with which they face the loss of doctrine in their own church. With what right does a church in which only a hopeless minority still maintains the Lutheran doctrine of the sacrament, presume to criticize Catholicism and its sacramental system in the name of the Lutheran confession?! How can theologians who deny the virgin birth and ascension of the Lord discuss the assumption of the Virgin Mary with Rome? We are well aware of the fact that dogma in the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church occupies a position different from that in the Roman Church. We are well aware that all of us can only begin with the prayer: "I believe, dear Lord help my unbelief!" We know that we must have the kind of patience with men who have difficulties with the church's confession, as God - so we hope - has patience with us. But in this regard, we must be clear that we as members and pastors of the Lutheran Church can only speak with Rome as our fathers did so at the time of the Reformation: on the firm basis of the confession of the entire holy church of Christ, the confession of faith in the Triune God, the God-man Jesus Christ, the articles of the divine majesty, which are not in contention, as Luther put it. If we have given up these articles, then we no longer belong in chairs of theology, in the pulpit and in church government. For we have first of all to become once again humble students of the catechism, as Luther still was as an old doctor. How will one who does not confess the spiritual realities of the believing and confessing church of the gospel, which actually lives from the Word and Sacrament, face the powerful spiritual and intellectual realities of the Roman Church?

 

In this is stated our proper theological task. It does not suffice merely to reject the Roman claims. As certain as since the days of the apostles genuine polemics, the struggle against heresy, has been part and parcel of the expression of the living church, so it is certain that the rejection of heresy is only the flip side of the confession of pure doctrine. The new Roman dogma can not be faced with the weapons of the human intellect. The more or less enlightened man, who today converts to or sympathizes with Rome for political reasons, will swallow almost everything the pope places before him to believe. What sacrifice is offered more easily everywhere in the world today than the sacrifice of the intellect! What a fine brotherhood exists today between the American freemasons and Rome [both of which exist] on similar bases. The weapon with which the new Marian dogma may be opposed with any consequence is alone "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Eph. 5:17. But this sword is only at the disposal of the church that lives entirely in the Word of God. Is the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of today, are the churches which call themselves Lutheran today, churches of the word, churches of the Sola Scriptura, as was the Church of the Lutheran Reformation? Have we not heard from theologians, even bishops, who call themselves Lutheran, very questionable words regarding tradition, as another form of the word along side the scriptures?

 

"This means God's Word shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even and angel." [BS 421.23] Do we really understand this statement of the Reformer from the Smalcald Articles in its entire depth? If we did understand it then we would also understand what these same Smalcald Articles teach regarding the Antichrist, the man in the church who sets himself in the place of Christ. Let us be anxious, dear brothers in the Office, that our church remains a church of the word, a church of the sola scriptura, or become this once again where it is in danger of forsaking the scriptures. T his is the great responsibility which we bear in every one of our sermons, in every hour of instruction which we conduct. Of course we can not guard the word on the basis of our own strength. The Lord of the word, the Dominus Scripturae, He, the Verbum Incarnatum, must keep us in His word, as the church implores. God has revealed himself in his word. And if we do not remain in His word then we can not but create other gods before him.

 

This is the teaching which the history of the Marian cult demonstrates. The veneration of Mary at its very deepest essence, is finally the deification of man. In it man, who can not bear it that God alone, God's Son become man alone, is his Redeemer, thus places himself as his own co-redeemer. What this means and whence it leads is illustrated by the history of one of the most celebrated Marian churches of the west - the pope himself gives us this indication when he includes the temples dedicated to Mary in his proofs from tradition. In the place of an ancient pagan holy place - similarly in Rome the Santa Maria sopra Minerva - was raised in Paris the Cathedral Nostrae Dominae. In it Thomas Aquinas was promoted to Magister. In it the great teachers of scholasticism prayed and preached, who taught that amazing Catholic synthesis of nature and grace, reason and revelation, and human preparation for the reception of grace and divine redemption, that cooperation of the human will with divine grace, for which the Holy Virgin is the great paradigm. Is it an accident that in the same Church of Notre Dame, during the French Revolution, that religion was evidenced which since then has become the sharpest opponent of the Christian faith and a substitute for the faith of their fathers for many millions of men throughout the world: belief in man and his reason. At that time the Temple of Reason was raised up in the old Marian church, and in it was enthroned a not so holy "maiden" of the Parisian opera, as the "Goddess of Reason," and she let herself be marveled at in the speech for the occasion as a "Masterwork of nature." Did this fearful scene perhaps have a deeper meaning? Did it not demonstrate what perverse path man comes to when man is placed beside God, reason next to revelation, nature next to grace. On the day reason ejects revelation from the temple, man places himself on the throne of God and reveals, after he has rejected grace, his true nature. This is all possible in a Marian church. These possibilities lie dormant in the Church of Christ, and become reality when Christianity forgets that the Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even and angel. Verbum solum habemus. We will hold to the Word of God.

 

In the bond of faith, greetings toward Easter, Your Hermann Sasse

 

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