Mary on the Eve of the Second Vatican Council

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John C. Cavadini, Danielle M. Peters
  • Notre Dame, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , May
     366 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


From the declaration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus by Pius IX in 1854, through Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution in 1950, Munificentissimus Deus, which defined Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven as dogma, and up to the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, the study of the Virgin Mary’s role in theology flourished in a “golden age” of Mariology. The tenor of this age revealed itself in the heated debate at the Council over whether Our Lady would be treated in a separate, individual document or be included in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The former was characterized as a Marian “maximalism,” while the latter was seen as “minimalism.” From a post-conciliar vantage point, one may be tempted to say that with the Council’s treatment of Mary as chapter 8, the culminating chapter of Lumen Gentium, the “minimalists” won. Such an assessment would be entirely too facile.

It must be noted, however, that general devotion to Mary among the faithful and the academic study of the Blessed Virgin did indeed decline after the Second Vatican Council. This decline is keenly acknowledged by John Cavadini and Danielle Peters, the editors of Mary on the Eve of the Second Vatican Council, a collection of essays that has as its goal to impel scholars “to study the Marian theology of this long century [from 1854-1962] and to begin to find ways to take up some of its strands and cultivate them anew” (2). The essays in the book are divided into three main sections: “Historical Highlights,” “Ressourcement Theologians and Response,” and “Marian Modalities in the Church.” It concludes with an epilogue by James Phalan, C.S.C. on some pastoral reflections on what effect a renewal of Marian theology can have on the “New Evangelization” (the call of Pope John Paul II to re-evangelize fallen away Christians).

The section on “Marian Modalities in the Church” is an enlightening treatment of Mary’s role in the spirituality of the founders of lay movements and secular institutes prior to Vatican II, including the Schoenstatt Work, Focolare, and L’Arche. The section concludes with a short article by Lawrence Cunningham on the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton’s view of Mary as the model for contemplative life. The takeaway from this particular article is that, despite what some may feel towards Merton’s other works, his understanding of Mary’s contemplative receptivity of the Word is worthy of greater and wider treatment. The gem from this section is the fascinating chapter of Ann Astell, “Remembering 1854 in 1958: O’Connor’s Edited Collection on the Immaculate Conception as a ‘Sign of the Times.’” Astell chronicles the events of the conference held at the University of Notre Dame in the Summer of 1954 that was the basis for the important mariological collection of essays, The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: History and Significance, which was published by the University of Notre Dame Press four years later on the eve of Vatican II and included contributions from four theologians influential at the Council: Georges Jouassard, Charles Journet, Carlo Balić, and René Laurentin.

The three articles in the section on “Historical Highlights” give a broad view of the history of Mariology. Brian Daley’s chapter, “Sign and Source of the Church: Mary in the Ressourcement and at Vatican II” moves from the patristic age, beginning with Irenaeus, and goes all the way up to the Council and beyond. Daley argues that Ressourcement, particularly led by Henri de Lubac, was the impetus for Vatican II’s treatment of Mariology at the end of Lumen Gentium. Thomas Thompson’s chapter, “Recovering Mary’s Faith and Her Role in the Church” proposes to deal with the faith of Mary as expressed by key figures throughout the Church’s history. Unfortunately, rather than a robust explanation of Mary’s faith, what is presented is a too tenuous treatment. Unfortunately again, Thompson’s chapter covers much of the same ground as Daley’s previous chapter, but without Daley’s depth. I found its inclusion in the volume to be largely superfluous. While mentioned in many of the chapters in the book, a chapter on Matthias Scheeben’s Mariology was conspicuously absent. Such a chapter would have been a fitting follow-up to Daley’s. Rounding off this section is an intriguing essay on “From Epinal to Plateau d’Assy: Religious Art in the Marian Century” by Johann Roten, who argues (I think successfully) that with the movement to find a fundamental principle in Mariology that was sparked by Scheeben, we see also different stages of artistic representations of Mary that correspond to the search for a fundamental principle. Art imitates theology! My one quibble with this chapter is the paintings Roten puts forth as examples would have been enhanced if they had appeared in color rather than in black and white.

The real value of this book is found in the central section on “Ressourcement Theologians and Response.” Here we find informative chapters on Yves Congar, René Laurentin, Otto Semmelroth, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, and Louis Bouyer, all of whom played a decisive role in setting the stage for the Church’s discussion of Mariology on the eve of Vatican II. This section should serve as a driving force for a renewed interest in both the mariological and broader theological work of these figures. Peter Joseph Fritz’s chapter on Rahner’s “minimalism” that was colored by a “maximalism” and Michael Heintz’s surprising chapter on the Mariology of Bouyer are especially notable.

It is always dangerous to read Church documents devoid of their original milieu. What Mary on the Eve of the Second Vatican Council does is what the Second Vatican Council itself demands: namely, it presents the Council in continuity with what went before. “Continuity,” however, does not preclude development. This volume is an important contribution to the field of Mariology that re-orients us to the theological and historical context in which the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium was written. Cavadini and Peters ought to be commended for this invitation to recapture the wisdom of this Marian Age before the Council in order to allow it to bear fruit today.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel M. Garland Jr. is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
December 4, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John Cavadini is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and editor of Explorations in the Theology of Benedict XVI (2013) and Who Do You Say That I Am? (2004), both published by University of Notre Dame Press.

Danielle M. Peters, S.T.D., is a member of the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. She serves as president of the Mariological Society of America, and as the moderator of the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement in Dallas, Texas. She is the author of Ecce Educatrix Tua: The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a Pedagogy of Holiness in the Thought of John Paul II and Father Joseph Kentenich.


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