15 August 2016

Pius XII and the Assumption.

The simplistic notion that the Definition of 1950 regarding the Assumption of our Lady somehow constituted the 'imposition' of a 'new' dogma is quite the opposite of the truth. Put crudely, rather than being Doctrinal Augmentationism, that Definition constituted Doctrinal Reductionism.

The first millennium texts common to Rome and Canterbury expressed a belief common also to the East: that Mary 'underwent temporal death'; that nevertheless she 'could not be held down by the bonds of death' and that the precise reason why God 'translated her from this age' was that 'she might faithfully intercede for our sins'. This is the Ancient Common Tradition of East and West. It is, in fact, expressed clearly in much of the liturgical and patristic evidence which Pius XII cited as evidence for the dogma in Munificentissimus Deus; one suspects that this is because the Pope would have been much shorter of evidence if he had omitted this material. But it is left out of the definition. Which means that it has de facto disappeared from the consciousness of Latin Christendom.

And in the subsequent liturgical changes, our Lady's death and resurrection were censored out of the Divine Office. Yet the old beliefs were good enough for the pages of the Altar Missal of the Anglo-Saxon Archbishops of Canterbury (the 'Leofric Missal'), the faith of S Odo, S Dunstan, S Aelfheah, S Aethelnoth, S Eadsige and very probably of so many other archbishops of Canterbury stretching beyond Plegmund to S Augustine. They were good enough for the Breviary lections during the Octave. Blessed John Henry Newman's justly celebrated sermon on the Assumption makes the same point. She died and was resurrected. Authoritative, surely?

Yet this is not what Pius XII defined. His 1950 definition, as the ARCIC document on Mary accurately reminds us, does not 'use about her the language of death and resurrection, but celebrates the action of God in her.' [A very strange 'but'!] In other words, Pius XII took a machete and slashed ruthlessly at the Common Ancient Tradition about our Lady's end, not simply by ignoring the apocryphal stories about how the Apostles gathered and what they found in the tomb and how S Thomas arrived late and all the rest of it; but also by pruning away even the bare structural bones of what Christians Eastern and Western had harmoniously thought they knew: that she died and was resurrected.

The 1950 decree was not the imposition of some new dogma but the elimination of 99% of what the Common Ancient Tradition had for centuries comfortably shared. Those whose instinctive disposition is to avoid speculation about our Lady's End ought to applaud Pius XII and the radical austerity, the innovative agnosticism, of his definition. He went almost all the way to meet them.


A Scottish Cat said...

Is there a similar issue with Pius IX's Definition of the Immaculate Conception?

alwelborn said...

But surely the fact that his definition excluded these aspects of tradition does not mean that it is now wrong for us to believe them, right? Even now adays Eastern Churches in communion with Rome speak of Mary's death in their liturgies, thus it seems like nothing has changed and it's still part of the ordinary magisterium (or at least more than pious opinion), even though Pius XII only included one aspect in his definition.

Matthew Roth said...

The problem with the Immaculate Conception is it can lead one to deny that Our Lady died.

St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death. How can this be reconciled to the Assumption if Our Lady was conceived without sin and in fact even lacked original sin? It seems to me that death as punishment from sin means the violent separation of body and soul, even if one will receive the body again, with no guarantees of a peaceful end, and the possibility of eternal death through the fires of Hell. It seems that Our Lady's end was peaceful. What about her soul? Would it still have been within her body, or would it have been separated? And why did Our Lord wait? So that her death might mimic his own? It seems to me that this is the principal flaw of my hypothesis: shouldn't the beatific vision and resurrection of the body be instantaneous & without any separation of body and soul?

It seems to me that the death of Our Lady is problematic in light of the Immaculate Conception, but it is the tradition of the church, which Pius XII did not deny, it must be noted. The problems also are in the mechanism, which we might do well to leave alone, and in an area of theology which does not really matter, since the rest of us will die with the effects of original & personal sin.

Tomas said...

Fr. Hunwicke,

I may be missing some of your wit here, but I take a little bit of umbrage in saying Pius' definition leaves out 99% of the Common Ancient Tradition. I think one has to have blinders on to think that.

As one who feels a little sheepish questioning you, would it be possible to have you cite some passages from Munificentissimus Deus which point to Pius taking a machete to the Common Ancient Tradition?

My own thinking is that I can understand the argument that the definition, taken in itself (only the line from paragraph 44), could be read to have done this (if we read "completed the course of her earthly life" to not reference death, or at least only do so ambiguously). However, if we read it with a lens of Ratzingerian continuity not only with the tradition (which of course supports the maximalist rather than minimalist reading), but also the text of Munificentissimus, especially the patristic quotations in the text itself (not to mention the footnotes), it appears that Pius' definition rather favors the maximalist reading, an inclusion of at least %80 of what the Common Ancient Tradition says (sadly, the beautiful tradition of the apostles miraculous transportation to her deathbed is ignored - as a Thomas myself, I feel a special connection with that apostle who appeared too late to see her; the first pining experienced by all believers to see their august queen enthroned beside the King of Kings).

mark wauck said...

In defense of Pius XII, and in the name of tradition ...

My understanding is that the mandate of the Successors of Peter is to maintain the deposit of faith, the Apostolic Tradition that was "handed down" from the apostles. The term Apostolic Tradition has, I think, a very specific meaning. It is not "old stuff." It is not "immemorial custom." It is not Apostolic Tradition "plus pious beliefs." It is not Apostolic Tradition "plus accretions over the centuries." Nor is it Common Ancient Tradition. To fail to take this distinction seriously opens up traditionalists to a traditionalism that lacks any standards except age.

Traditions, whether embodied in the liturgy or handed down otherwise, may be evidentiary, but I don't see how they can be dispositive of the content of the Apostolic Tradition.

Tom B. said...

Re Matthew Roth's comment,

"This day the stainless maiden, who had been defiled by no earthly lust, but ennobled by heavenly desires, returned not to dust, but, being herself a living heaven, took her place among the heavenly mansions. From her true life had flowed for all men, and how should she taste of death? But she yielded obedience to the law established by Him to Whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, which even her Son, Who is the very Life Itself, had not refused; but, as the Mother of the living God, she was worthily taken by Him unto Himself."

(from St. John of Damascus' sermon on the Dormition [5th Matins lesson from yesterday])

Matthew, I'm with you in that "we might do well to leave alone" any speculation beyond this.

Titus said...

"But surely the fact that his definition excluded these aspects of tradition does not mean that it is now wrong for us to believe them, right?"

Of course: one is free to believe that the Blessed Virgin died, and one is free to believe that she did not. The dogma, which one must believe, doesn't say one way or another.

St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death. How can this be reconciled to the Assumption if Our Lady was conceived without sin and in fact even lacked original sin?

St. John Damascene wrote on this (it survived into the 1962 breviary): "She from whom true Life has flowed to all Men, how could she taste death? But she yielded to the law laid down by Him whom she conceived and, as daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence (for her Son, who is Life itself, did not refuse it); but, as the Mother of the living God, she was rightly taken up to His side."

"I take a little bit of umbrage in saying Pius' definition leaves out 99% of the Common Ancient Tradition."

Father is undoubtedly correct that the definition is narrow. Dogmatic definitions almost always are: the Church has an enormous and rich Tradition, with subtle variations from time to time and place to place at the margins. Dogmatic definitions compel belief, and cut off those who do not acquiesce from the freedom they formerly enjoyed. Why, then, define the dogma more broadly than absolutely necessary? Pius XII gave a definition everyone could agree on without second though: Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul. Whether or not she died is a notable omission, but it's not exactly the point of the story. The bits about Thomas, and the tomb, etc. are the sort of purely accessory details one would never expect to find in a creed anyways.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Father.

I would venture to say that there was a deliberate effort to excise the tradition of the death from the liturgy...for 18 August, the lessons from Damascene on the lovely story of the apostolic visit to the tomb did not need to be removed (the third nocturn lessons, one could argue, did need to be adjusted to a homily on the new Gospel).

Tony V said...

The problem around the definition of the Assumption isn't the tradition itself, but the recourse to the notion of 'papal infallibility'. Whatever one thinks of this the validity of the doctrine of papal infallibility, it creates the immediate problem of determining whether this or that statement throughout history was infallible. It would have been better had Vatican I never happened.

Yes, yes, I know that Vatican I's definition was actually very narrow--etc, etc--but it created an aura of infallibility: there's a Spirit of Vatican I just as there's a Spirit of Vatican II. And now we're in a situation straight out of Le Petit Prince.

There's also a hierarchy of truths. Was the Assumption so important to salvation that a pope had to make it a stumbling block to Christian re-union?

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Indeed, not only does he not use the language, he uses one phrase either denying it or denying incorruption of incorrupt saints.

Before I found Palmar de Troya (which I rejected since), and was seeking for Michel Colin (who seems not to have a legitimate successor in his own line, Gaston Tremblay having forced an abdication and no alternative to him ensuing by conclave in Clémory), I considered Pius XII an antipope because of this.

Qui n'est plus traditionnel
que l'Antipape Eugène Pachel
ne verra jamais le Ciel ...

After finding Pope Michael, who admits "there are some problems with Pius XII", I suppose this could still be true.

Michel Colin or Clement XV died 1974, 16 years before the Bawden initiative for emergency conclave elected initiator in 1990.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"Is there a similar issue with Pius IX's Definition of the Immaculate Conception?"

On the contrary.

It seems to have been traditional in the East (vide Palaman) while neglected in the West.

Moritz Gruber said...

Sorry, Reverend Father, but you are really wrong on this.

Pope Pius XII did not prune a thing. He added dogmatic certainty to the fact that Our Lady is now in Heaven with body and soul. Even that is not 1% of the Church's belief concerning the end of the Blessed Virgin, but more like 30 % at the very least; I should rather say 70%, but 1 is right out.

In any case, he left the rest as it was and added dogmatic certainty to that, to the jubilant joy of Catholic Christendom and, I believe, even a "well he really shouldn't be doing that sort of thing but he happens to be right" from Eastern Orthodoxy [*]. That's what he did, and it was good he did it.

Dear Tony V, two points:

1. Whatever we believe about whether Vatican I should have happened, happen it did, and the dogma it taught is true.
2. Other than Vatican I, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin has not in practice been any sort of stumbling-block to Christian unity. And Pius XII had the right to assume it would not, because he could combine
i. a shrewd sense that the content of this dogma is only actually denied by those who also, and much more harshly, deny other dogmas already defined such as the veneration of Our Lady and the Saints at all or the resurrection of the flesh at all, with
ii. the humanly probably estimate that non-Catholics would be more willing to come to terms with Papal infallibility when they see it in action, rather than trusting in a "oh it is of faith that he could do that, but he won't because he doesn't want to upset you" (given of course that Vatican I won't go away in any case)
iii. the fact that a Christian reunion in any other form than drop by drop, individuals and relatively small communities, is heavily improbable whatever we do (before the Second Judgment that is - the conversion of the traditional Anglicans is in fact of a rather exceptionary nature) and
iv. the hope that Providence will let good, not bad, effects come out of it when God's people and its leader choose to honor His mother.

And so it has been proved. - Do not get me wrong, a Pope had better not declare a dogma on grounds like iv) alone; but together with i)-iii) and the obvious truth-in-itself of the teaching so dogmatized it does make for a compelling argument that the dogma is not only true but also opportune.

[* Of those who were not mistakenly assuming him to have declared actually heretical the statement that our Lady underwent temporal death. The Easterners do have a history of being misinformed about what the West actually says; quite unlike the Protestants, who do know what the Church says and "only" reject it. Still, misinformed people do not count.]