Sunday, August 14, 2011

More on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Simon Vouet 1590 - 1649
The Assumption of the Virgin
Oil on canvas
76 3/4 x 50 3/4 in
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims

Vouet painted the subject of the Assumption at least four times: only two are still known to exist

His early version of 1629 is still in situ in the Altarpiece of St. Nicolas-des-Champs in Paris. See video with music in the link

The 1649 work was commissioned for the Oratory of Queen Anne of Austria in the Palais Royal. The walls of the Chapel were filled with pictures, painted in competition by de Champaigne, Vouet, Bourdon, Stella, Lahire, Corneille, Dorigni, and Paerson, all representing the life and attributes of the Virgin Vouet`s work may have been the altarpiece of the Oratory

Vouet, Louis XIII's favorite artist and the oldest member of the team, may have been in charge of the oratory project.

The work by Philippe de Champaigne of the Annunciation is in The Metropolitan in New York

Why did Pope Pius XII issue the definition of The Assumption of Mary in 1950 ?

According to L. Walsh, ‘The definition of the Assumption of Mary into Heavenly Glory,’ in A. Denaux and N. Sagovsky (eds), Studying Mary (London & New York: Continuum, 2007), pp. 165-192. the definition it was issued after extensive consultation with Roman Catholic bishops from around the world.

It was intended to ‘rebound to the glory of the Trinity and therefore benefit human society, deepen devotion towards Mary and a desire to share in the unity of the body of Christ amongst ‘all those who glory in the Christian name,’ convince people of the value of a life devoted to God and the good of others in face of materialism and the moral corruption flowing from it and, finally, strengthen the belief of the faithful in their own resurrection.

However, the reaction outside the Catholic Church to the Definition of the Dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII was rather mixed.

The Anglican Church was not very pleased.

Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, then the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, vented his misgivings to the news media, pronouncing it "a doctrine completely foreign to the Bible and ancient universal beliefs."

He and the then Archbishop of York issued a joint statement very critical of the Definition:

"We must at once state publicly,...that the Church of England does not and cannot hold this doctrine to be a necessary part of the Catholic faith, belief in which may be required by members of the church

"The Church of England renders honour and reverence to the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But there is not the smallest evidence in the Scriptures or in the teaching of the early church of belief in the doctrine of her bodily assumption . . . We profoundly regret that the Roman Catholic Church has chosen by this act to increase dogmatic differences in Christendom and has thereby gravely injured the growth of understanding between Christians . . ."

In 1951 (a year after the Definition) Professor Henry Chadwick in “Eucharist and Christology in the Nestorian Controversy,” JTS, n.s., 2 (1951): 163–64 suggested that the Dormition or the Assumption was attractive to those who rejected the dogmatic formula of the Council of Chalcedon.(AD 451) He said:

"The whole tendency of Monophysite piety was to minimize the significance of Christ’ssoul. As the Antiochenes clearly perceived, the result is that Christ loses solidarity with us. Is there not, then, a consequent need for popular piety to clutch at someone, with a vital part in the drama of redemption ...? . . . In such a situation it would be a reassurance if there could be someone in solidarity with the rest of mankind who had risen again in the body. . . . Accordingly, there seems little need for surprise that such a story as the Assumption of the Virgin became current in Monophysite circles during this period."

He went on to suggest that there was a certain disjunction between the faith of Chalcedon and the newly defined Catholic dogma of Mary’s Assumption.

He also suggested that the popular tradition of piety on which the Dogma rests may well be connected with an exaggerated emphasis on the divine transformation of the human element in the person of the Incarnate Word, more reflective of the christology of the later opponents of Chalcedon than of mainstream dogma.

Since then the Anglican position has thankfully changed. It is no longer so hostile. in recent years there has been a revival of the cult of Mary in the Church of England. There have been Anglican additions of Marian feasts We have even seen Archbishops of Canterbury visit the 'Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham'

In 1995, Pope John Paul II noted that the topic of ‘the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity’ was one of the ‘the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved’.

Joint studies between Anglicans and Roman Catholics took place took place and it would seem that these talks were fruitful

In 2004 a Joint Commission under ARCIC met to discuss a common position on Mary between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. It produced the Seattle Statement (2004/5) (Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ)

Of the Doctrine of the Assumption, the Statement said:

"39. Following the Christological debates at the councils of Ephesus (AD 431) and Chalcedon (AD 451), devotion to Mary flourished. ...By the sixth century, commemoration of Mary as ‘God-bearer' had become universal in the eucharistic prayers of East and West (with the exception of the Assyrian Church of the East). Texts and images celebrating Mary's holiness were multiplied in liturgical poetry and songs, such as the Akathist, a hymn probably written soon after Chalcedon and still sung in the Eastern church.

A tradition of praying with and praising Mary was thus gradually established. This has been associated since the fourth century, especially in the East, with asking for her protection.

40. After the Council of Ephesus, churches began to be dedicated to Mary and feasts in her honour began to be celebrated on particular days in these churches. Prompted by popular piety and gradually adopted by local churches, feasts celebrating Mary's conception (December 8/9), birth (September 8), presentation (November 21), and dormition (August 15) mirrored the liturgical commemorations of events in the life of the Lord.

They drew both on the canonical Scriptures and also on apocryphal accounts of Mary's early life and her ‘falling asleep'. ...

The feast of Mary's ‘falling asleep' dates from the end of the sixth century, but was influenced by legendary narratives of the end of Mary's life already widely in circulation.

In the West, the most influential of them are the Transitus Mariae. In the East the feast was known as the ‘dormition', which implied her death but did not exclude her being taken into heaven. In the West the term used was ‘assumption', which emphasized her being taken into heaven but did not exclude the possibility of her dying.

Belief in her assumption was grounded in the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the recognition of Mary's dignity as Theotókos and ‘Ever Virgin', coupled with the conviction that she who had borne Life should be associated to her Son's victory over death, and with the glorification of his Body, the Church....

78. As a result of our study, the Commission offers the following agreements, which we believe significantly advance our consensus regarding Mary. We affirm together ...

that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions (paragraph 60);

that this agreement, when accepted by our two Communions, would place the questions about authority which arise from the two definitions of 1854 and 1950 in a new ecumenical context (paragraphs 61-63);

that Mary has a continuing ministry which serves the ministry of Christ, our unique mediator, that Mary and the saints pray for the whole Church and that the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us is not communion-dividing (paragraphs 64-75)."

ARCIC, Marian Issues and Final Document; Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (Seattle, Washington 2004)

There is a Vatican commentary of the Statement here (by Father Jared Wicks,SJ.

The Statement of Seattle has yet to be approved of by the Church of England. This year another Commission was set up by the Anglican Church to consider the Report/Statement. Some have difficulty in accepting the Report.

One strand of opinion has criticised the Statement for

"its almost complete silence on the effect of Marian teachings on the lives of women, its failure to engage with feminist readings of Mary within both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism and to acknowledge the distinctive contribution to thinking about Mary made by medieval women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Gertrud the Great and Elizabeth of Schöna. A further concern was the relatively brief consideration of Mary considered as an inspiration for those working for justice and liberation."

Oh well. So while they debate and consider, let us celebrate the great Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, Blessed Mother and Virgin, Theotokos, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven and Mother of Mercy

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