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History of Roman Catholic Mariology

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Michelangelo's Pieta 5450 cropncleaned

Michelangelo's (1475-1564) Pietà was carved in 1499, and is today in Saint Peter Basilica in Rome.

The history of Roman Catholic Mariology traces theological developments and views regarding Mary from the early Church to the twentieth century. Mariology is a mainly Catholic ecclesiogical movement within theology, which centers on the relation of Mary and the Church. Roman Catholic Mariology is the encyclopedic area of theology concerned with Mary, the Mother of God. Theologically, it not only deals with her life, but her veneration in daily life, prayer, art,music, architecture, in modern and ancient Christianity throughout the ages. They are referenced in this article as well.

History of the concept

Mary in the Early Church


Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early catacombs, Rome, 4th century.

The history of Mariology goes back to the first century. Early Christians focused their piety at first more upon the martyrs all around them. Following that they saw in Mary a bridge between the old and the new. [1] In the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons called Mary the "second Eve" because through Mary and her willing acceptance of God's choice, God undid the harm that was done through Eve's choice to eat the forbidden fruit. The earliest recorded prayer to Mary, the sub tuum praesidium, is dated in its earliest form to around the year 250.

In the fifth century, the Third Ecumenical Council debated the question of whether Mary should be referred to as Theotokos or Christotokos. Theotokos means "God-bearer" or "Mother of God"; its use implies that Jesus, to whom Mary gave birth, is truly God and man in one person. Nestorians preferred the title Christotokos meaning "Christ-bearer" or "Mother of the Messiah" not because they denied Jesus' divinity, but because they believed that God the Son or Logos existed before time and before Mary, and that Mary was mother only of the human person of Jesus, so calling her "Mother of God" was confusing and potentially heretical. Both sides agreed that Jesus took divinity from God the Father and humanity from his mother. The majority at the council, backed by the Pope believed that denying the Theotokos title would carry with it the implication that Jesus was either not divine, or else would go to split him into two separate personhoods, one of whom was son of Mary and the other who was not. Ultimately, the council affirmed the use of the term "Theotokos" and by doing so affirmed Jesus' undivided divinity and humanity. Thus, while the debate was over the proper title for Mary, it was primarily a Christological question about the nature of Jesus Christ, a question which would return at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican theological teaching affirms the "Mother of God" title, while some other Christians give no such title to her.

Churches dedicated to Mary appeared across the Christian world, among the most famous being Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and Saint Sophia in Constantinople. Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world from the sixth century onward, the memorial day of the festival settling on the 15th of August in both the East and the West.

Medieval Mariology


The medieval cathedral Notre Dame dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Paris France, was built in the years 1163-1345

The Middle Ages saw a growth and development of Mariology. It has been popular, particularly among Protestant and non-Christian observers to see Mariology itself as having its origin in this period. But as has been noted above, the importance of Mary and of Marian theology can be seen in the Church from a very early period. The Medieval period did however bring major champions of Marian devotion to the fore, including Ephraim the Syrian, John Damascene and Bernard of Clairvaux. Chants such as Ave Maris Stella and the Salve Regina emerged and became staples of monastic plainsong. Devotional practices grew in number. From the year 1000 onward more and more churches, including many of Europe's greatest cathedrals were dedicated to Mary. Walsingham and other places of Marian pilgrimage developed large popular followings. Prayers to Mary included the Ave Maria.

Theologically, besides sects with non-Catholic Marian theologies like the Waldensians and Catharians, one major controversy of the age was the Immaculate Conception. Although the sinlessness of Mary had been established in the early church, the exact time and means whereby Mary became sinless became a matter for debate and dispute. Gradually the idea that Mary had been cleansed of original sin at the very moment of her conception began to predominate, particularly after Duns Scotus dealt with the major objection to Mary's sinlessness from conception, that being her need for redemption. [2] The very divine act, in making Mary sinless at the first instant of her conception was, he argued, the most perfect form of redemption possible.

Popes issued decrees and authorized feasts and processions in honor of Mary. Pope Clement IV (1265-1268) created a poem on the seven joys of Mary, which in its form is considered an early version of the Franciscan rosary [3]

Renaissance Mariology

Marian art during the Renaissance

Fra Angelico 046

Fra Angelico (1396-1455) The Virgin of the Annunciation

Italian artist with Marian morivs include:Leone Battista Alberti (1404-1472) Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455) Biagio d'Antonio Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) DonatelloSandro Botticelli Masaccio Domenico Veneziano Filippo Lippi Andrea del Castagno Piero di Cosimo Paolo Uccello Antonello da Messina Pisanello Andrea Mantegna Luca Signorelli Alessio Baldovinetti Piero della Francesca MasolinoAndrea del Verrocchio Domenico Ghirlandaio Benozzo Gozzoli Carlo Crivelli

Dutch and German artists with Marian paintings include: Jean Bellegambe (c.1470-1535) Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) Dirk Bouts Robert Campin (c.1380-1444)Petrus Christus (1410/1420-1472) Jacques Daret Gerard David (c.1455–1523)Hubert van Eyck (1366?-1426) Jan van Eyck (1385?-1440?) Geertgen tot Sint Jans Hugo van der Goes Adriaen Isenbrant (c.1490-1551) Limbourg brothers Quentin Matsys (1466-1530)Hans Memling (c.1430-1494) Joachim Patinir Roger van der Weyden Albrecht Altdorfer (c.1480-1538) Hans Baldung (c.1480-1545), Alsatian Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586) Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)Matthias Grünewald (c.1470-1528) Hans Holbein the Elder (c.1460-1524) Hans Holbein the Younger (c.1497–1543) Ambrosius Holbein (1494-1519)

French and Spanish artistswith Marian paintings include: Jean Fouquet Jean Clouet Francois Clouet Barthélemy d'Eyck (born Netherlands), Nicolas Froment Jean Hey (formerly known as the Master of Moulins) Simon MarmionEnguerrand Quarton Bartolomé Bermejo Ayne Bru Juan de Flandes Jaume Huguet Pablo de San Leocadio

Madonna col bambino, palazzo medici riccardi, filippo lippi

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

Baroque Mariology

During the Reformation, the Catholic Church defended its Mariology against Protestant views. At the same time, the Catholic world was engaged in ongoing Ottoman Wars in Europe against Turkey which were fought and won under the auspices of the Virgin Mary. The victory at Battle of Lepanto (1571) was accredited to her “and signified the beginning of a strong resurgence of Marian devotions, focusing especially on Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth and her powerful role as mediatrix of many graces”. [4] The Colloquium marianum, an elite group, and the Sodality of Our Lady based their activities on a virtuous life, free of cardinal sins.

The baroque literature on Mary experienced unforeseen growth with over 500 pages of mariological writings during the 17th century alone. [5] The Jesuit Francisco Suárez was the first theologian, who used the thomist method on Mariology. Other well known contributors to baroque Mariology are Lawrence of Brindisi, Robert Bellarmine, Francis of Sales. After 1650, the Immaculate Conception is the subject of over 300 publications from Jesuit authors alone. [6] This popularity was at times accompanied with Marian excesses and allegded revelations of the Virgin Mary to individuals like María de Agreda [7] Many of the baroque authors defended Marian spirituality and Mariology. In France, the often anti-Marian Jansenists were combated by John Eudes and Louis de Montfort, canonized by Pope Pius XII [8]

Baroque Mariology was supported by several popes during the period: Pope Paul V and Gregory XV ruled in 1617 and 1622 to be inadmissible to state, that the virgin was conceived non-immaculate. Alexander VII declared in 1661, that the soul of Mary was free from original sin. Pope Clement XI ordered the feast of the Immaculata for the whole Church in 1708. The feast of the Rosary was introduced in 1716, the feast of the Seven Sorrows in 1727. The Angelus prayer was strongly supported by Pope Benedict XIII in 1724 and by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. [9]

Popular Marian piety was more colourful and varied than ever before: Numerous Marian pilgrimages, Marian Salve devotions, new Marian litanies, Marian theatre plays, Marian hymns, Marian processions. Marian fraternities, today mostly defunct, had millions of members. [10]

Lasting impressions from the baroque mariology are in the field of classical music, painting and art architecture, and in the numerous Marian shrines from the baroque period in Spain,France, Italy, Austria and Bavaria but also in some South American cities.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1524.1594 composed Marian Masses including (Missa): Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris, Assumpta est Maria, Regina coeli, de beata Virgine, Ave Regina coelorum, Descendit Angelus Domini, and, Missa O Virgo simul et Mater.

Mariology during the Enlightenment

The emphasis on scientific progress and rationalism put Catholic theology and Mariology often on the defensive. Marian theology was even discontinued in some seminaries for example in Salzburg Austria in the year 1782 [11] The virginity and special graces and “the singular personality of Mary” were adhered to, but Marian cults were deemphasized “and even among the Catholic faithful, the self-conscious right for Marian devotions was getting lost” [12] Some theologians proposed the abolition of all Marian feast days altogether, except those with biblical foundations and the feast of the Assumption. [13]

Many Benedictines such as Celestino Sfondrati (1796) and Jesuits, [14] supported by pious faithful and their Marian sodalities fought against the anti-Marian trends. But with the secularization, which meant the forced closing of most monasteries and convents, Marian pilgrimages either discontinued or, were greatly reduced in number. The rosary was under critique in Catholic circles as not Jesus oriented and too mechanical. [15] In some places, it was now forbidden to pray the rosary during Holy Mass. [16] The highly conservative rural Bavarian dioceses of Passau outlawed Marian prayer books and related articles in 1785[15].

During this time, mariologist looked to “The Glories of Mary” and other mariological writings of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, an Italian, whose culture was less affected by the enlightenment. “Overall, Catholic mariology during the enlightenment lost it's the high level of development and sophistication, but the basics were kept, on which the 19th century was able to built on.” [17]

Mariology in the 19th century

The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception developed within the Catholic Church over time. Conception of Mary was celebrated as a liturgical feast in England from the ninth century, and the doctrine of her "holy" or "immaculate" conception was first formulated in a tract by Eadmer, companion and biographer of the better-known St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), and later popularized by the archbishop's nephew, Anselm the Younger. The Normans had suppressed the celebration, but it lived on in the popular mind. It was rejected by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure (who, teaching at Paris, called it "this foreign doctrine," indicating its association with England), and by St. Thomas Aquinas who expressed questions about the subject, but said that he would accept the determination of the Church. Aquinas and Bonaventure, for example, believed that Mary was completely free from sin, but that she was not given this grace at the instant of her conception.[18]

Emblem of the Papacy

A series of articles on
Roman Catholic
Murillo immaculate conception

General articles
MariologyVeneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of MariologyMariology of the saintsMariology of the popesMarian Movements & Societies

Rosary and ScapularImmaculate HeartSeven JoysSeven SorrowsFirst SaturdaysActs of Reparation

Dogmas and Doctrines

Mother of GodPerpetual virginityImmaculate ConceptionAssumptionMother of the ChurchMediatrixCo-Redemptrix

Expressions of devotion

Key Marian apparitions
(approved or worthy of belief)
GuadalupeMiraculous Medal
La SaletteLourdesPontmainLausBanneuxBeauraingFátimaAkita

Papal Bulls
Ineffabilis DeusMunificentissimus DeusBis Saeculari

Papal encyclicals
Redemptoris MaterAd Caeli ReginamFulgens CoronaDeiparae Virginis MariaeIngruentium MalorumAd Diem Illum

Papal Apostolic Letters and other teachings
Rosarium Virginis MariaeMarialis Cultus

Key Marian Feast Days
Dec 8 Immaculate ConceptionJan 1 Mother of GodMar 25 AnnunciationAug 15 Assumption

Despite this formidable array of tradition and scholarly opinion, the Oxford Franciscans William of Ware and especially Blessed John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine. Scotus proposed a solution to the theological problem involved of being able to reconcile the doctrine with that of universal redemption in Christ, by arguing that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from redemption by Christ; rather it was the result of a more perfect redemption given to her on account of her special role in history. Furthermore, Scotus said that Mary was redeemed in anticipation of Christ's death on the cross. This was similar to the way that the Church explained the Last Supper (since Roman Catholic theology teaches that the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary made present on the altar, and Christ did not die before the Last Supper). Scotus' defence of the immaculist thesis was summed up by one of his followers as potuit, decuit ergo fecit (God could do it, it was fitting that He did it, and so He did it). Following his defence of the thesis, students at Paris swore to defend the position, and the tradition grew of swearing to defend the doctrine with one's blood. The University of Paris supported the decision of the (schismatic) Council of Basel in this matter. Duns' arguments remained controversial, however, particularly among the Dominicans, who were willing enough to celebrate Mary's sanctificatio (being made free from sin), but, following the Dominican Thomas Aquinas' arguments, continued to insist that her sanctification could not have occurred at the instant of her conception.

Popular opinion remained firmly behind the celebration of Mary's conception. The doctrine itself had been endorsed by the Council of Basel (1431-1449), and by the end of the 15th century was widely professed and taught in many theological faculties. However, the Council of Basel was later held not to have been a true General (or Ecumenical) Council with authority to proclaim dogma; and such was the influence of the Dominicans, and the weight of the arguments of Thomas Aquinas (who had been canonised in 1323, and declared "Doctor Angelicus" of the Church in 1567) that the Council of Trent (1545-63)—which might have been expected to affirm the doctrine—instead declined to take a position; it simply reaffirmed the constitutions of Sixtus IV, which had threatened with excommunication anyone on either side of the controversy who accused the others of heresy.

Ettal abbey 003

As an example of Baroque painting and architecture, Ettal Abbey:1776 Frescos under the dome, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary unite heaven and earth

But it was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic Bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, proclaimed the doctrine in accordance with the conditions of papal infallibility that would be defined in 1870 by the First Vatican Council.

Mariology in the 20th century

Mariology in the 20th century was dominated by a genuine Marian ethusiasm both at the papal and popular levels. Membership in Roman Catholic Marian Movements and Societies grew significantly in the 20th century.

In 1904, in the first year of his Pontificate, Pope Pius X established the dogma of Immaculate Conception with the encyclical Ad Diem Illum. The papal enthuusiasm culminated in the Dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII, and, the Second Vatican Council, declaring Mary as Mother of the Church. Fifteen hundred years after the Council of Ephesus, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Lux Veritatis, reminding the Orthodox Christians of the common faith. He presided over a Mariological congress in 1931.[19]

At the popular level, the 20th century witnessed unprecedented growth in the number of volunteer-based lay Marian devotional organizations such as free rosary distribution groups. An example is Our Lady's Rosary Makers which was formed with a $25 donation for a typewriter in 1949 and now has thousands of volunteers who have distributed hundreds of millions of free rosaries to Catholic missions worldwide.

The number of 20th century pilgrims visiting Marian churches set new records. In south America alone, two major Marian basilicas, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil and the new Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac hill were constructed and jointly recorded over 10 million visitors per year.

Mariology of Pope Pius XII


Pope Pius XII was called the most Marian pope in Church history. [21] His life and pontificate were clearly marked by his Marian veneration. His mariological views Dogma of the assumption high point but his mariological writings extend beyond that. He introduced a new Marian feast, Mary Queen of Heaven, and was the first Pope ever to call for a Marian year, a practice continued by John Paul II in 1998.

The mariology of Pope Pius XII builds on the 1854 dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX in Mystici Corporis, which summarizes his mariology: Maria, whose sinless soul was filled with the divine spirit of Jesus Christ above all other created souls, "in the name of the whole human race" gave her consent "for a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature." [22], thus elevating human nature beyond the realm of the purely material. She who, according to the flesh, was the mother of our Head, became mother of all His members. Through her powerful prayers, she obtained that the spirit of our Divine Redeemer, should be bestowed on the newly founded Church at Pentecost. [23] She is Most Holy Mother of all the members of Christ, and reigns in heaven with her Son, her body and soul refulgent with heavenly glory. [23]

Pope Pius XII consecrated the human race and later Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He prescribed this Feast for the whole Church in 1944. In 1950 Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as being an article of faith for Roman Catholics. This was the first (and to date only) ex cathedra exercise of papal infallibility since Vatican I. In 1950 and in 1958 he authorized institutions for increased academic research into the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary (see below). In 1953, Pope Pius ordered a Marian year for 1954, which was filled with Marian initiatives, in the areas of mariology, cultural events, charity and social gatherings [19] In his encyclical Fulgens Corona and Ad Caeli Reginam he presented a synthesis of the mariology of the Church and warned against excesses and timid under-representation of the Catholic faith. In several encyclicals and apostolic letters to the people of Poland and other countries behind the Iron curtain, he expresses certainty, that the Blessed Virgin Mary will triumph over her enemies. [24] Pope Pius canonized several persons with very strong Marian faith and spirituality, and, sometines visions, such as Louis de Montfort,Peter Chanel Jeanne de Lestonnac Pope Pius X Catherine Labouré Anthony Mary Claret and Gemma Galgani

Second Vatican Council

Vatican Two (1962-1965?) issued in Chapter eight of Lumen Gentium a pastoral summary of Catholic doctrine on Mary, which does not claim to be complete. [25]. Mariologists had hoped for a dogma on Mary as Mediatrix, the foundations of which were laid by several popes especially Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XII. It was considered a “clear case”. The preparations for the council included an independent schema “About the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God and Mother of the People” [26] Some observers interpreted the renunciation of this document on Mary as minimalism, others interpreted her inclusion as a chapter into the Church document as underlining her role for the Church. [27]

The Marian chapter has five parts which link Mary to the salvation mysteries which continues in the Church, which Christ has founded as his mystical body. Her role in relation to her son is a subordinated one. Highlighted are her personality and fullness of grace. The second part describes her role in salvation history. Her role as a mediator is detailed, as Mary is considered to secure to our salvation through her many intercessions after her assumption into heaven. The Council refused to adopt the title mediator of all graces and defined her unspecified as mediator. [28] Pope Paul VI declared Mary Mother of the Church during the Vatican Council.

Marian church architecture in history

Throughout history, Roman Catholics have continued to build churches to honor the Blessed Virgin. After the edict of Milan, Christian were permitted to worship openly and the veneration of Mary became public. In the following decades Cathedrals and churches were built for public worship. The first Marian churches in Rome date from the first part of the fifth century, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Antiqua and Santa Maria Maggiore.

Today, a large number of Roman Catholic churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin exist on all continents, and in a sense, their evolving architecture tells the unfolding story of the development of Roman Catholic Mariology.

Marian art through history

Throughout Roman Catholic history, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary has led to the creation of numerous items of Roman Catholic Marian art. Today, these items may be viewed from an artistic perspective, but also they are part of the fabric of Roman Catholic Mariology.

The veneration of the Blessed Virgin led to the creation of numerous paintings and statues, which today are viewed often from an artistic perspective. The Virgin Mary has been one of the major subjects of Christian Art, Catholic Art and Western Art since the third century. Literally hundreds of thousands of artworks have been produced, from masters such as Michelangelo and Botticelli to humble peasant artists.


  1. Schmaus, Mariologie174
  2. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Mercier Press Ltd., Cork, Ireland, 1955
  3. Otto Stegmüller Clemens IV in Marienkunde, 1159
  4. Otto Stegmüller, Barock, in Marienkunde, 1967 566
  5. A Roskovany, conceptu immacolata ex monumentis omnium seculrorum demonstrate III, Budapest 1873
  6. Otto Stegmüller, Mariologisches Schrifttum in der Barockzeit, 1967 568
  7. who was placed on the Index of forbidden book of the Church in 1681.
  8. although in 1673, the Holy Office itself acted against his book on slavery. (Stegmüller, 573)
  9. F Zöpfl, Barocke Frömmigkeit, in Marienkunde, 577
  10. Zöpfl 579
  11. Narr Zoepfl Mariologie der Aufklärung, 1967, 411
  12. RG Giessler, die geistliche Lieddichting im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. 1928, 987
  13. Benedict Werkmeister, 1801
  14. such as Anton Weissenbach SJ, Franz Neubauer SJ,
  15. 15.0 15.1 D Narr 417
  16. In 1790, monastery schools outlaws the praying of the rosary during mass as a distraction. (D Narr 417).
  17. Otto Stegmüller, 1967
  18. Mary's Immaculate Conception
  19. 19.0 19.1 Bäumer 534
  20. Bäumer, Marienlexikon
  21. Bäumer, Marienlexikon
  22. Office for Holy Week
  23. 23.0 23.1 Pius XII, Enc. Mystici Corporis Christi, 110
  24. add encyclicals
  25. Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk, Vaticanum II, in Marienlexikon 567
  26. Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk, Vaticanum II, in Marienlexikon 567
  27. Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk, Vaticanum II, in Marienlexikon 567
  28. Leo Cardinal Scheffczyk, Vaticanum II, in Marienlexikon 569

See also


  • Michael Schmaus, Mariologie, Katholische Dogmatik, München Vol V, 1955
  • K Algermissen, Boes, Egelhard, Feckes, Michael Schmaus, Lexikon der Marienkunde, Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 1967
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