Munificentissimus Deus (Latin for "The most bountiful God") is the name of an Apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the second ex-cathedra infallible statement ever made by a Pope, the first since the official ruling on Papal Infallibility was made at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). In 1854, Pope Pius IX made an infallible statement with Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a basis for this dogma. The decree was promulgated on November 1, 1950.
Background: Survey of all bishops
The previous encyclical Deiparae Virginis Mariae (May 1, 1946) to all Catholic bishops stated, that for a long time past, numerous petitions have been received from cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious of both sexes, associations, universities and innumerable private persons, all begging that the bodily Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin should be defined and proclaimed as a dogma of faith. This was also fervently requested by almost two hundred fathers in the Vatican Council (1869-1870).
|Dogmas and Doctrines|
- Actually God, who from all eternity regards Mary with a most favorable and unique affection, has "when the fullness of time came"(2) put the plan of his providence into effect in such a way that all the privileges and prerogatives he had granted to her in his sovereign generosity were to shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony. And, although the Church has always recognized this supreme generosity and the perfect harmony of graces and has daily studied them more and more throughout the course of the centuries, still it is in our own age that the privilege of the bodily Assumption into heaven of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, has certainly shone forth more clearly.
At issue was not the belief in the assumption, but its dogmatisation. Munificentissimus Deus reports popular acclaim and "nearly unanimous" approval of the contemporary bishops. The names of the bishops attending the dogma celebration in 1950 are listed at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica.
Review of Catholic beliefs
The decree surveys theological history, especially the history of the belief in the Catholic Christian tradition, ... "the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church have never failed to draw enlightenment from this fact", Munificentissimus Deus reviews the history of Catholic liturgy and the many liturgical books, ... "which deal with the feast either of the dormition or of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin", and the teaching of previous popes. Munificentissimus Deus cites also the teaching of previous bishops and such writers as John of Damascus, Francis de Sales, Robert Bellarmine, Anthony of Padua and St. Albert the Great among others.
The Dogma of the Assumption
- By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Relevance to the faithful
In this dogmatic statement, the phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life" is carefully written to leave open the question of whether or not Mary died before her Assumption, or whether, like the Assumption of the Prophet Elijah, Mary was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed in the formulation. However in articles 14, 17 and 20 of the dogmatic pronouncement it is stated that Mary had indeed died, "...the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ...".
The entire decree (and the title itself) is also worded to suggest that Mary's Assumption was not in any sense a logical necessity, but rather a divine gift to Mary as Mother of God. Munificentissimus Deus teaches that Mary lived and completed her life as a shining example to the human race. The gift of the assumption is offered to all the faithful and signifies what to hope for at the end of Time. Her assumption signifies God's intention to all those faithful to Him.
"Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective."
- Assumption of Mary
- Dormition of the Theotokos
- Papal infallibility
- Marian papal encyclicals and Apostolic Letters
Literature before the definition
- POPE PIUS XII, APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION, MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS DEFINING THE DOGMA OF THE ASSUMPTION, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1950, 735
- C. Balic, Bibliotheca de Assumptione BVM ex Omnibus Saeculis, Rome, 1948, 2 Volumes
- Otto Faller, De Priorum Saeculorum Silentio circa Assumptionem BMV, Rome, 1946
- G. Hentrich et R.G.de Moos, Petitiones de Assumptione Corpora BVM in Caelum Definiendae ad S.Sedem Delatae, Vatican City, 1944; 2 Volumes
- G. Hentrich, Assomption de la Sainte Vierge, in Manoir, I, pp 621-658
- J.M. Bover, La Asuncion de Maria, Estudio teologico historico, Madrid, 1947
- J. Ernst, Die leibliche Himmelfahrt Mariens, Paris 1925
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