Rorate Caeli

Our Lady left behind: The Marian Question in Vatican II
Second part: the faithful must "purify" their devotion in the name of ecumenism. The closest vote of the Council.

Fra Angelico
Coronation of the Virgin

In January 1963, after the closing of the first session, the Council’s coordinating Committee decided that the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, would be treated separately from the schema De Ecclesia. “There is no doubt - Komonchak admitted - that the schema De Beata Maria Virgine, also regarding Her role as Mediatrix, met with the expectations and desires of a great number of bishops, according to their vota beforehand.

The Schema constitutionis dogmaticae de [Beata] Maria [Virgine] was sent to the Fathers during the month of May [1963]. Neither the decision, nor the approved text, pleased Father Rahner, who in a written text addressed to all of the participants at the Fulda conference [of German-speaking Council Fathers and their experts] in August 1963, expressed his great concern regarding the document. These (concerns) – he assured – were shared by Fathers Grillmeier and Semmelroth. If the text were adopted, he affirmed “it would cause unimaginable harm from the ecumenical point of view regarding both the Orientals and the Protestants" [154]. Certainly, Rahner added, it could not be expected that the schema would be rejected like the one on the sources of Revelation. To reduce its importance, it was necessary to push, with all the insistence possible, for the schema to become a chapter, or the epilogue, of the schema on the Church. This, to his mind, would have been “the easiest means to suppress from the schema the affirmations that theologically, are not sufficiently developed and would do nothing other than create incalculable harm from an ecumenical point of view. Thus, bitter discussions would be avoided”[155].

Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J.
The point that Rahner attacked with the greatest vigor was the teaching of the schema about the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and more precisely the title which was attributed to Her, as “Mediatrix of all graces”. This teaching proposed in the draft not as a dogma of faith, but as an ordinary doctrine of the Church, was rejected by Rahner, because of the negative consequences, that in his opinion, they could have had on Mariology and on the devotion of the faithful towards Mary. The Protestants, in fact, denied any formal cooperation whatsoever of Mary with the Redemption and abhorred the terms “Mediatrix” and even more “Co-Redemptrix”. He concluded affirming that the Bishops of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland had to consider it their duty to assume an open rejection of the schema in its present formulation [156].

The Fulda Conference adopted Rahner’s suggestions, but on the point of Mary’s mediation, it limited its criticism only to the expression “Mediatrix of all graces”. The proposal, officially submitted by the Fathers at the Fulda Conference to the general Secretary of the Council, also cited Protestant fonts, recalling how the Lutheran German bishop Dibelius had declared in 1962 that the teaching of the Catholic Church on Mary was one of the major obstacles to ecumenical unity. According to other German Protestants, the Council Fathers had to remember that, approving a schema on Mary, they would have raised a new wall of division; they would therefore have had to maintain silence on the theme or call to order those who rendered themselves guilty of excesses.

c) The success of the “minimalists” 

On September 30, 1963, the opening day of debates, the “minimalists” immediately asked, by way of Cardinal Frings [157], that all that regarded the Blessed Virgin Mary be absorbed by the schema on the Church, intended to facilitate ecumenical dialogue with the separated brethren. The following day Cardinal Silva Henríquez [Archbishop of Santiago de Chile - 158] also sustained that in Latin America the devotion to the Virgin Mary exceeded the limits of Christian devotion and that the approval of a schema on the Madonna would have worsened the situation. Consequently, on behalf of 44 bishops from Latin American countries, he supported Cardinal Frings’s proposal. Similar declarations were made that same morning by Abp. Garrone [159], Archbishop of Toulouse, on behalf of  “many French bishops”, by Abp. Elchinger [160] and by Abp. Méndez Arceo [161].
Cardinal König and the Dalai Lama, 1973

On October 4, the English and Welsh hierarchy intervened in favour of Frings’s proposal. On the same day a text drawn up by the Servite Fathers was distributed to the Council Fathers, in which they suggested that, alongside the title of “Mediatrix” , also the title of “Co-redemptrix” should be used. Father Balić, expert in the Theological Commission, in turn, circulated a document in which he set out the reasons why the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary had to remain separated from the one on the Church. Also Cardinal Arriba y Castro [162], Archbishop of Tarragona, speaking on behalf of 60 Spanish bishops, declared that, given the importance of the Mother of God in the economy of the Redemption, contrary to what had until that moment been sustained, it would have been preferable to adopt a separate schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary [163]. The discussion continued with interventions of opposing trends. On October 24, the Cardinal Moderators announced that seeing the great number of Fathers that had requested the inclusion of the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary within the one on the Church, the Holy Father had charged the doctrinal Commission to choose two from among its members to expose their different positions. 

The Commission designated Cardinal Rufino Santos [164], of Manila, as advocate for a separate draft schema and Cardinal Franz König of Vienna as advocate for the absorption. The two Council Fathers exposed their contrasting propositions in aula on October 24 [165]. The Archbishop of Manila enunciated 10 arguments in favor of the separate schema, affirming that Our Lady is the first and principal member of the Church, but at the same time is above the Church and, according to Saint Bernard’s judgment, “stat intra Christum et Ecclesia” [stands between Christ and the Church]. The faithful – he added – would have interpreted the incorporation of De Beata into the De Ecclesia as a sign of lessening Marian devotion. König affirmed, on the contrary, that the faithful had “to purify” their Marian devotion in order to avoid their attachment to that which was secondary and accidental and, above all, in order not to damage the cause of ecumenism

The texts of the two Cardinals’ reports were distributed on October 25. The “Ecclesiotypical” concept of the “minimalists" aimed at the relativisation of the Blessed Virgin’s role, which considered Her in relationship not with Her Divine Son, but with the ordinary faithful in the Church [166]. They overturned the traditional conception that had always considered Mary not as a figure of, but as a model for the Church. Indeed, “the figure is inferior to the figurative, of which it constitutes the effect, while the exemplary is superior to its image and it constitutes the cause. Therefore, it is rather the Church that is the image and figure of the Virgin” [167]. On October 29, the following question was put to vote: "Does it please the Council Fathers that the schema regarding the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, be revised in order to become the VI Chapter of the schema on the Church?" The results of the vote were 1,114 in favor, 1,074 against. For the first time the assembly found itself split in two, with a disparity of only 40 votes; the division corresponded to that of two opposing theological visions and marked a victory for the “minimalists”, even if by a small margin [169]. According to Melissa Wilde , the success of the Progressives, was caused less by their strength, than due to the weakness of the Conservatives, who had still not found any organizational form. Despite the efforts of some of them, like Father  Balić, who, on his own initiative, distributed his writings to the Council Fathers, they lacked a coordinated and systematic action. “As the Council was voting on Mary, the leaders of the CIP (Coetus Internationalis Patrum) were just beginning to correspond and had still not seriously constituted their organization. It was, in fact, the defeat of the Marian schema, along with the disastrous votes on collegiality the following day, that forced the conservatives into organizing themselves better (…). The evidence shows that they would have been able to do much more regarding the Marian schema if they had been better organized beforehand in the Council.” [170] 

[Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican Council – a never before written history) Chapter IV - 1963 THE SECOND SESSION - No. 6 – The Marian Question, pages 314-324. Second and last part.]

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]


153 J. KOMONCHAK, La lotta per il Concilio durante la preparazione (The fight for the council during preparations) cit., P.277. Also SALVATORE PERRELLA, I “vota” e i “consilia” dei vescovi italiani sulla mariologia e sulla corredenzione nella fase antepreparatoria del Concilio Vaticano II, Marianum, Rome 1994. 154 WILTGEN, P.90. 155 Ibid. p. 91.
156 WILTGEN, P.91. Anche ANTONIO ESCUDERO CABELLO, La cuestiòn de la mediaciòn matiana en la preparaciòn del Vaticano II. Elementos para una evaluaciòn de los trabajos preconcilares, LAS, Rome 1997.

157 AS (Acta Synodalia sacrosanti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II 1970-1980, Typis Vaticanis, Citta del Vaticano 1970-1999. II/I,pp.343-346.
158 Ibid, pp. 366-368. 159 Ibid, pp.374-375. 160 Ibid, pp.378-380. 161 Ibid, pp. 385-386.
162 Benjamìn de Arriba y Castro (1886-1973), Spanish, ordained in 1912. Archbishop of Tarragona from 1949 to 1970, created cardinal in 1953.
163 As, II/2, pp. 14-16.
164 Rufino J. Santos (1908-1973), Philipine, ordained in 1931. Auxiliary Bishop (1947), then Archbishop of Manila from 1953 until his death. Created cardinal in 1960. Member of the central Preparatory Commission and the Doctrinal Commission.
165 AS, II/3, pp. 338-342 and pp.342-345.
166 FRANCOIS-MARIE o.f.m.., La nouvelle mariologie dans chapitre 8 de Lumen Gentium, in L’unité spirituelle du genre humain, pp.272-273 (pp.269-288).
167 Ibid, p.282. 168 AS, II/I, p.627; CAPRILE, vol.III, PP.160-163.
169 For a total description of his concepts, LAURENTIN, La Vierge au Concile, cit., P.138.
170 Melissa Wilde, Vatican II: a sociological analysis of religious change, Princeton University Press, Oxford 2007 – p.108.