Monday, August 31, 2009

Marian Dogmas for the 21st Century: 4. The Assumption of Mary

This is a talk Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila gave about the Marian dogmas under the title "The Future of the Christian Experience". It is available on her Web site in its original Catalan and in a computer-assisted Spanish translation. Since I'm putting it on the blog, I have divided the text into four parts.

1. Introduction and Mary, Mother of God
2. Virgin Mary
3. Immaculate Mary
4. The Assumption of Mary, Conclusion and footnotes

4. Assumption of Mary, Pius XII, November 1, 1950

The dogma of the Assumption brings us back to the meaning and value we give to our corporeality and the material world with it. It is known that a Christian world view and epistemology are incompatible with dualism. That does not mean that one cannot find many examples of undervaluing the body among Christian authors past and present, since dualism seems from the intellectual point of view to be the most logical position and in fact has been the prevalent position in Western philosophy, whether in its materialistic or idealistic versions. The first reduce the world of what really is or exists to matter and consider the spirit to be mere chimera, an invention without a consistent corollary in reality; the second extol the purity of the spirit and despise matter as a contingent and limited reality. The idealistic versions of dualism have been the most influential ones. Since Plato, the material world and specifically the human body have been seen as a prison for the spirit. The material world is conceived as that which limits the unfolding of the spirit. O when that liberation comes from this matter that does not allow us to be fully that which we are called to be! This lament is incompatible with the Christian view, which considers matter in its entirety and our body in particular as completely transparent to the action of the Spirit. For Christianity, what opposes the Spirit and makes expression difficult is not matter but only fear of freedom. Every Sunday in Lauds we sing the song of the three young men: “Bless the Lord, all His works, praise Him forever…light and darkness…clouds and sun…mountains and hills…wild beasts and tame…all people” (Dn. 3:52-90) The whole Creation, in its materiality, has been made by God to help us and not to be an obstacle to us in our existential task that is encountering God – the friendship with God that is made real in the friendship with those near to us, especially the least fortunate. Everything that lives and everything that exists is brother/sister in the sense of St. Francis, everything except sin, which was not created by God but is the fruit of the renunciation of our responsibility as co-creators. At the moment of making the Creation, God declared it “good” and even very good (Gn. 1:10-55), the created matter can be completely invigorated by the Spirit and thanks to this potentiality participates in the grace of that Spirit that hovered over the nothing of the primordial waters. All that we call the “material world”, far from being a prison for us, is the condition of possibility for experiencing that for which we were made: loving God and loving each other. In this task, matter is not our enemy but rather, our ally, since it is only through the limits of space and time that it imposes on us, that we can become aware of our ability to choose, that it is possible for us to take one direction or another in life and in each real situation (Kant expressed the paradox of the spatial-temporal limit in a succinct and poetic way: “The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would still be easier in empty space.” [14])

The dogma of the Assumption states that Mary was raised up to Heaven in body and spirit. St. Paul announces the transformation of our “earthly body” into a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44 ff) and in the Creed we proclaim “the resurrection of the body”. Not only on earth, but also in the fullness of Heaven, the soul is inseparable from the body and the person is not conceivable without both. The “body” is the equivalent of the “esse in” dimension of the person, of his freedom, of the virginity conceived of as that unyielding space that individualizes him and allows him to be truly distinct from all other people and also distinct from God. To state that Mary was raised up to Heaven in body and soul is equivalent to stating that her way of living out her personal identity on earth was completely free. Mary was totally “herself”, without fear and without sin; she fully assumed her responsibility as co-creator within the contingency of the world and the vicissitudes of her life journey that was not exactly easy. Using the Pauline expressions quoted earlier we can state that Mary’s “earthly body” corresponded to her “spiritual body” in everything – something that, because of sin, doesn’t happen to any of us but did happen to Jesus. What this correspondence (in the case of Jesus and Mary) or the transformation (in our case) of the “earthly body” into the “spiritual body” means concretely cannot possibly be known while we are in the world of time and space. Nonetheless, what can be stated definitively is that the soul doesn’t leave the body. The only thing that is excluded from Heaven is sin, not the body.

The important point about the Assumption of Mary for the Christianity of the future is the reapparaisal of the inseparable unity of body and spirit that gives an absolute meaning to our history and allows us to interpret it as a limitless succession of second chances. There is not a second life in space and time that allows me to learn to love better, so the limit of having only one life is not an obstacle but instead is precisely the only way, the condition of possibility for learning to love. The light dove…might imagine that its flight would still be easier in empty space. Without limits, we would never learn to truly love. Without risk, our love would be worth nothing. Loving is a simple act, available to everyone, one that doesn’t depend on circumstances but only on the ability to trust. For the Christian, this ability to trust (and to take full responsibility up to the ultimate consequences for the trust given) must be practised in this life that is limited by space and time, that is the only one we have, and that is why it has absolute urgency and dignity.

This brief tour of the Marian dogmas has highlighted the close unity between them from a theological standpoint. The circumstances in which they were proclaimed are very diverse and are not exempt from conflict, but both in their formulation and in the history of their interpretation these dogmas point towards the same essential reality: the Christian God, the Trinitarian God, cannot and does not want to relate to us only as the one who gives – only as Father – but also as Son, as the one who receives. Mary lived this unprecedented reciprocity with God (the reciprocity of the Spirit) to the utmost consequences and trusted this All-powerful God who is not afraid of vulnerability completely. It is in this sense that we state that the Christian experience in the 21st century will either be Marian or it will not exist.


1. ‘The Devout Christian of the Future Will ... Be a Mystic'. Mysticism and Karl Rahner's Theology. In William J. Kelly, ed., Theology and Discovery: Essays in honor of Karl Rahner, SJ. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980; 139-68.

2. ‘The 21st Century will Be religious or will not Be’: Malraux's Controversial Dictum, Metamorphoses: André Malraux and the 21st Century, Harvard Colloquium, in the Revue André Malraux Review, volume 30, numbers 1/2 (2001), 110.

3. Martín Velasco, Juan de Dios. Más allá de la vieja idea del exclusivismo: hacia una nueva espiritualidad para un mundo religiosamente plural. VII CONGRESO TRINITARIO INTERNACIONAL ‘GRANADA 2008’: Nueva espiritualidad (liberadora trinitaria) para otro mundo posible. Granada, del 20 al 22 de Noviembre de 2008.

4. Newmann, JH. Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (original edition 1845; second edition revised by author 1878).

5. Properly, the title ‘Theotokos’ would not be translated as “Mother of God” but as “Engenderer of God” (Genetrix Dei). Mother of God would properly be ‘Theométer’.

6. Maria Jesús d’Àgreda. The Mystical City of God (Book Three, 11.137). The text corresponds to the original autograph of the author (1660) in the digital edition care of Antonio M. Artola Arbiza ( [English text at:]

7. ge÷noito/ moi kata» to\ rJhvma¿ sou (Lc 1,38).

8. ∆En aÓrchvˆ h™n oJ lo/goß (Jn 1,1).

9. Lux Orta Sermon (attributed to Thomas Aquinas and considered probably authentic by critical sudies): Isaiah 9, 2: populus qui ambulat in tenebris, (scilicet ignorantiae ante adventum Christi et nativitatem beatae Mariae virginis) vidit lucem magnam, scilicet beatam virginem, quae fuit lux magna, quia sicut filius ejus totum mundum illuminat, sic beata virgo totum genus humanum. De ista luce dicitur in Genesi 1, 3: dixit Deus, fiat lux et facta est lux. Fiat lux ad animae beatae virginis creationem, et facta est lux in sanctificatione (Lux Orta, 2).

10.In Hebrew: rwóøa y∞Ih◊y . In the LXX version: genhqh/tw fw◊ß.

11. Maria Jesús d’Àgreda. The Mystical City of God (Book Three, 11.141).

12. See the epilogue of La Trinitat, avui (PAMSA, 2005). See also the article “Feminist Freedom” published in the Journal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research (ESWTR, 2008), of which a Spanish version is available at

13. St. Augustine, Sermo 169, 11, 13: PL 38, 923. Cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church, part III (Life in Christ); Section One (Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit), Chapter 1 (The Dignity of the Human Person), article 8, paragraph 1847.

14. Kant, I. Critique of Pure Reason (Introduction, 3).

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