Vatican Council—Third Session (4), "The Constitution on the Church"

In this final article on the "Constitution on the Church" I wish to direct attention to the remaining chapters of the statement. Four of these I mention only briefly; but the final one is of special significance since it treats of Mary and the relationship of the church to her. 

There is a chapter on the "Laity," pointing to the calling of the common members of the church to labor faithfully on this earth. The chapter is evidently included to show that the Romish church indeed values the "laity"—though its hierarchical system would seem to deny this. One statement in the chapter appears to reflect the common modernistic and postmillennial viewpoint:

May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with His saving light.¹

The next chapter speaks of the "Universal Call to Holiness in the Church." It repeats that old error that the suffering of the saints serve also to redeem the world:

May all those who are weighed down with poverty, infirmity and sickness, as well as those who must bear various hardships or who suffer persecution for justice sake—may they all know they are united with the suffering Christ in a special way for the salvation of the world . . . . 

. . . By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world—as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood . . . .¹

The next chapters treat respectively the religious orders within the church and the "eschatological nature of the pilgrim church and its union with the church in heaven." This last chapter points to the relation of the faithful on the earth to the saints in heaven who, supposedly, make intercession for them. 

THE PLACE OF THE VIRGIN MARY 

This eighth and last chapter of the "Constitution" is of special interest to Protestants. Long has the issue of the place of Mary been one of the principal dividing points between Rome and Protestants. Therefore the present statement by the Council is worthy of careful consideration. 

On reading the chapter, it soon becomes, evident that the Romish church has not revoked nor altered its former stand regarding Mary: First, the chapter maintains the sinlessness of the Virgin:

Thus Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty Cod, serving the mystery of redemption . . . .

Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, on completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son . . . .¹

The above paragraph also repeats the position of the Romish church that Mary was taken bodily into heaven without dying. The chapter reveals further the position of the Romish church regarding Mary's intercession for the faithful:

This maternity of Mary ins the order of grace began with the, consent she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.¹

THE CONCESSION TO ECUMENISM 

The Vatican Council, though insistent in maintaining the old errors regarding the place of Mary, was careful about making any further statements, dogmatic statements, concerning her. Much pressure was brought to bear upon the Council to make definitive statements concerning Mary's place in redeeming God's people. The "conservative" Romish theologians wanted Mary raised yet higher in the dogma of the church. But the Council resisted that pressure—evidently also with the intent to promote good relationships with protestants. 

The material concerning Mary was originally a separate schema. The adoption of such a separate schema would have emphasized Rome's esteem of Mary; thus offending many protestants. One Roman Catholic commentator wrote:

Then too there was the majority vote by the Fathers to consider the place .of the Blessed Virgin Mary within the schema on the Church rather than separately. 

. . .This move should have salutary effect of curbing excessive and distorted Marian devotions which must be as displeasing to her as the clearly were to the majority of the Catholic Fathers.²

And another wrote:

The present chapter on the Blessed Virgin Mary is still, basically, the original document proposed to the Fathers in the first session. . . .The original document was reworked, references to the universal mediation and the co-redemption of Mary were carefully deleted, and some new paragraphs on our Lady as type of the Church were added.³

The chapter itself both extols Mary and warns against exaggerations:

This most holy synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment, and those decrees, which have been given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed. But it exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church's magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety. Let them assiduously keep away from whatever, either by word or deed, could lead separated brethren or any other into error regarding the true doctrine of the Church. Let the faithful remember moreover that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues.¹

But the chapter allows for further development of dogma concerning Mary:

(This holy synod) does no, however, have in mind to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us.¹

MARY—MOTHER OF THE CHURCH 

At the close of the third session Pope Paul gave to Mary this title: Mother of the Church. The title is not so strange in view of Roman doctrine, but that the Pope should state this, after the Council had considered and rejected it, did appear strange. There is a question as to what the title really means. But it does appear, in the eyes of many, to increase the emphasis upon Mariology by Rome-something the Council was deliberately seeking to avoid. One liberal protestant magazine had the following comment:

The Roman pontiff proclaimed Mary "Mother of the Church, i.e., of the whole people of God, of the faithful as of the pastors." Again, for three years the conciliar fathers had considered and rejected the ascribing of this title to Mary. . . .The pope's arbitrary action was interpreted by some reporters as a "calculated assertion of papal supremacy to counteract emphasis placed on collective rule.4

Again, one must conclude that at heart Rome is unchanged. If there has been no further development in their "Mariolatry," neither has there been any regression. Strange that any should regard this as a concession on the part of Rome, for obviously Rome has not conceded a thing. Rome merely believes that it has centuries to accomplish what some wanted done at this Council.


¹ These quotations were taken from the Council Daybook, Session 3, published by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, pages 322-336. 

² James O'Gara, The Commonweal, Feb. 7, 1964, p. 569
 

³ Gregory Baum, The Commonweal, p. 130
 

4 The Christian Century, pg. 1483, Dec. 2, 1964