Chapter One: Grace and Devotion to Mary
Chapter Two: Mary, Holy Objects and God
Chapter Three: Primary Teachings - Mary the Virgin
Chapter Four: Mary and Jesus
Chapter Five: Deeper Teachings -
Chapter Six: Teachings Not Yet Declared Dogmas -
Jesus and Mary
A Mediator with our Mediator
Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts and Reflections
of the Holy Spirit
of Jesus Made Present
and Church Unity
Consecration to Mary Individual and
Litany of Mary's Faith Journey
© Copyright, J. Roy MacIntyre 2009
The Development of the Teaching on Mary and Church Unity
This is a final summary on the issue of the development of the teaching on Mary. One reason some Christians do not have an understanding of Mary is because the appreciation of Mary's role has been a steady development throughout the history of the Church and is not the principal goal of the Gospel Evangelists. Therefore, many Christians, even Catholics, who lack knowledge of the history of the Church, lack knowledge of Mary. For this reason devotion to her is often written off as an unnecessary sentimental practice. I hope reading this little treatise will convince the reader of the importance of her role and the need for devotion to her. Her importance can be seen in her title "Mother of the Church" given at Vatican Council II. This underscores and affirms the Church's teaching of her continued significance in the lives of all the faithful.
The development of teaching on Mary begins as early as the writing of the Gospels. In fact, in the span of time it took to write the four Gospels the significance of Mary's role began to be fleshed out. In Mark's Gospel the only mention of the mother of Jesus has been misunderstood to imply Mary's thinking Jesus to be out of His mind and Jesus implying others are more important than her (Mk 3: 21 & 31-35) (see above).
However, Mark's Gospel was written to give the basic Good News, that is, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He came to teach the way to the Father, He healed people, did miracles, was not accepted, was crucified, rose from the dead and commissioned the disciples to baptise and to preach the Gospel of salvation to all the Earth. By the time Matthew's and Luke's Gospels were written it was already necessary to include more information about Jesus' parentage and legal status. In this way, Mary is included in order to preserve the integrity of the Gospel message and the unity of the Faith.
Mary plays a more significant role in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in that she responds perfectly to the will of God. She ponders in her heart what God is doing. It is obvious that the Evangelists had to include more of Mary to help stem the tide of error that was already entering the Church (see above). John's Gospel has only the two references to the mother of Jesus; where she intercedes at Cana to initiate Jesus' ministry (she goes along with him after the wedding as well (Jn 2:12)) and at the crucifixion.
It is interesting that Mark, Matthew and Luke had specifically left Mary out of the crucifixion scene saying the women looked on from a distance while John, teaching a theological truth, states, "near the cross of Jesus there stood His mother" (Jn 19:25). This inclusion of Mary at the crucifixion and the dialogue around her there, in John's Gospel (the last gospel written) implies a further need, at the time of writing, for Christians to understand Mary's role in God's plan of redemption; again to stem the tide of error and thereby preserve the unity of the Church.
St. John who is generally agreed to have had Mary in his care for the last several years of her life would have grown in love of and devotion to her. I believe, in fact, that John was so permeated with Mary's presence from his time with her that her presence continued to be part of his life long after the end of her journey on earth. Apart from the deeper meaning intended by the Spirit in these two Johannine passages of Mary, one can see that John wanted the brethren to know what he must have experienced himself; Mary's commanding intercessory power and her tender motherhood of all the faithful.
The doctrines of the Church, including those about Mary, continued to be clarified throughout the centuries. This growth in understanding come through the people of God contemplating the mysteries of the Faith. A good example elucidated elsewhere in this book is the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. This great mystery was believed by all the faithful from the beginning but mysteries are never fully comprehended. Only after nearly 10 centuries, for instance was the concept of transubstantiation defined and around the same time that the Eucharistic celebration, the Mass, is the 'unbloody' sacrifice of Calvary re-presented on the altar.
Even today theologians and scripture scholars like Scott Hahn in the Lambís Supper have further clarified the meaning of the last supper. Hahn shows how the last supper extended from the celebration in the upper room and included everything all the way to Jesusí final act when He took the fourth drink of wine from the cross to complete the Passover meal.
So, we can see from all this that as time goes on, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the contemplation of the mysteries of the Faith, like Mary herself, they become more and more clear and occasionally must be defined. But mysteries by their nature are never fully grasped and can never be fully defined; they always afford believers opportunity to ponder in their hearts the marvels of God's work so they can grow to a deeper understanding of God and His plan of salvation.
The clarification of Maryís role in Godís plan of redemption was on the one hand to better understand her role in the history of salvation and, more importantly, to better understand Jesus, the Father and the Spirit. Jesus, Himself gives us a hint why these teachings would take time (Jn 16:12-13), "you cannot bear it now, the Spirit of Truth will guide you to all Truth." He also gives the authority to His Church to interpret these further elucidations or clarifications of the Truth of the Gospel (Mt 16:18-19).
An illustration of how doctrines grow through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the case of St. Paul. Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and said to him, "I am Jesus and you are persecuting me (Acts 9:5)." Now Paul (Saul) knew that he was making life for the new sect of Jesus difficult. However, in his mind he was doing this for the sake of God and his faith. But Jesus said that in so doing Paul was persecuting Jesus, Himself.
One can see in the subsequent writings of St. Paul a growth in the theme that the saints are the body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; 1Cor 12:12-27; Eph 1:23; 3:6; 4:4,12,16; 5:23,30 and Col 1:18, 24; 2:19). He expands and clarifies this doctrine whose seed was the few words Jesus spoke to him noted above. As is usually the case in clarifying doctrines the Scriptures are drawn upon and referenced. In his development of the teaching of the Mystical Body of Christ it is also likely that St. Paul considered the words of Jesus that are contained in the Gospels, "What you do to the least of my brethren you do to Me (Mt 25:40)."
Since the example of the development of the teaching of the mystical body is still contained within Scripture, that is, the writings of St. Paul, let us consider another example. No where in the Scripture do we have a specific teaching on the Blessed Trinity. In fact, you will not find the word in the Bible. However, the teaching on the Trinity continued to develop in the early Church. As noted above in the first century St. Ignatius of Antioch was already advising all Christians to accept the teaching of the Trinity. This teaching, which we take for granted today, came through struggle in the Church and in the end the truth prevailed. We now understand the Father begot the Son, or the Son proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and is the Personification of the Love between the Father and the Son. All three Persons are consubstantial, that is of the same substance, and equal in dignity, majesty and divinity. The Council of Nicaea defined this dogma in the promulgation of the Nicene Creed three hundred and twenty-five years after the birth of Christ. This is a good example of how the Holy Spirit through time and inspiration brings out and clarifies the truths of God.
I hope the examples above showing the development of teaching helps to clarify how our understanding of doctrines grows. In reading the passages noted above on the Mystical Body of Christ we can have some sense of why it was necessary for this doctrine of the Mystical Body to be clarified. Doctrines like this can only develop and be clarified when we are ready to receive them. This is also true of the gradual deepening of our understanding of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus. Nevertheless, these teachings about the mysteries of the Faith always remain mysteries for us to contemplate.
Let me share an example of the world's lack of readiness to receive the truth of a doctrine in modern times. The case I refer to is that of the treatise on Mary by St. Louis Marie De Montfort mentioned above. Although he propagated the teaching which was carried on by the religious order he founded, the book, itself, lay hidden in a chest for about one hundred and thirty years. Only after this time was it finally discovered by a member of his congregation who was searching through an attic.
In the book the saint prophesied as much when he wrote, "I clearly foresee that raging beasts shall come in fury to tear with their diabolical teeth this little writing and him whom the Holy Spirit has made use of to write it - or at least to smother it in the darkness and silence of a coffer, that it may not appear." The world was not prepared to receive this truth about Mary and so the treatise remained hidden until God had prepared the world to embrace it.
It is quite likely that if too much was said of Mary in the beginning, Mary may have diminished the message and Person of Jesus and possibly may have been made into a deity by some followers. However, the Church had grown to be able to put Mary in her proper place as being nothing before God, but as being profoundly instrumental in God's saving work for mankind.
I believe we now can rejoice because the world, the Church that is, is finally ready to receive the final doctrine regarding Mary's role in God's plan of redemption for the human race. With the proclamation of these doctrines of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate, the deposit of faith on Mary will be clarified and complete. Although there will be no further need to search for additional teachings on Mary, the people of God will always find new and inspiring thoughts as they contemplate the mystery of the mother of Jesus. In deed, there will never be an end to our need to meditate on Mary and her role to gain new insights into her exemplary place in the history of salvation, and as a means of better understanding and appreciating our God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.