Mariology, in a Historical Perspective

Interview With Father Paul Haffner, Professor and Author

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ROME, DEC. 5, 2004 ( The modern world’s difficulty in accepting the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is a fruit of the many false and incomplete philosophies it lives with, says a theologian.

Father Paul Haffner, a theology professor at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, made that point in an interview with ZENIT.

The London native, whose book “The Mystery of Mary” was recently published by Gracewing in Great Britain, and Hillenbrand Books in the United States, shared some insights with ZENIT.

Q: Why did you feel it was necessary to write a book on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception?

Father Haffner: The book is not only on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This book is published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the definition, by Pope Blessed Pius IX, of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.

In this book I have tried to offer a clear, structured overview of theology and doctrine concerning Mary, within a historical perspective. It is the author’s conviction that the foundation for fruitful devotion to the Mother of God starts from sound doctrine based in Scripture and Tradition, and is nurtured by good theology.

Q: Why did Pius IX decide to proclaim the dogma?

Father Haffner: In 1849, Pope Blessed Pius IX consulted the bishops regarding the faith of the Church concerning the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and also whether a dogmatic definition in this regard would be opportune.

The response was affirmative on both counts, and so, on December 8, 1854, Blessed Pius IX solemnly defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope proclaimed a doctrine which had been believed by the Church in one form or other since the earliest times.

Q: How does your book develop the topic, and what are the salient aspects that you will like to emphasize to readers?

Father Haffner: The book goes in thematic order. In the first chapter, I outlined the basic scheme of what constitutes Mariology, not in isolation but in relation to other forms of theological enquiry.

The second chapter works through the contribution of sacred Scripture — in the Old Testament forms of prefiguration and prophecy, and then the New Testament fulfillment and witness are proposed in Chapter 3.

The succeeding chapters examine each of the fundamental doctrines that the Church teaches about Our Lady.

Chapter 4 develops the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and other truths dealing with Our Lady as being full of grace.

The fifth chapter looks at Mary as Mother of God, the central dogma of Mariology. The various dimensions of the perpetual Virginity of Mary are elaborated in the sixth chapter.

Mary’s discipleship, a relatively recent theological acquisition, is examined in the seventh chapter, and this forms the basis for a discussion of her special and active participation in the Redemption.

Chapter 8 illustrates the end of Mary’s earthly life and her glorious assumption, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.

The ninth and final chapter elaborates Mary’s continuing Motherhood in the Church, in which she is the Mediatrix of all graces. In this year of the Eucharist, there is also a special focus on Mary’s relation to the Eucharistic Christ.

Q: It is difficult for the modern world to understand the meaning of the dogma, and it is even more complicated in regard to the Virgin Mary. How would you explain it to the young people of today?

Father Haffner: The difficulty lies with the modern world, and the fact that it is the heir to many false and incomplete philosophies.

In fact, the mystery of Mary illustrates and reveals not only the Mystery of Christ, but also the deepest yearnings and aspirations of human existence. The fact of her Immaculate Conception and sinless life, for example, shows us that God’s salvation really has had an impact, since e preserved her from sin. She is thus a ray of light in a darkened world.

Also, the definition of Mary’s assumption took place in 1950, and this was of great historical significance. It took place in the middle of a century when the sacredness of the human body was denied theoretically and practically at many levels.

In the first half of the 20th century it was denied politically in the totalitarian systems of Marxism and Nazism, which denied the sacredness of the body in theory, and in the slaughter of millions in the gulags and concentration camps.

In the second half of the 20th century, the assault on the sacredness of the human body was taken a step further through the massacre of untold millions through abortion and euthanasia, and also through sacrilegious experiments carried out on embryos — to say nothing of genetic engineering and attempts to clone the human being.

All of this is counterbalanced by the Church’s affirmation that Our Lady was assumed “body” and soul to the glory of heaven. The Church, which believes in the resurrection of the body, believes that this same body has been created in the image and likeness of God, and is called to a supernatural destiny in Christ.

Q: What is the relationship between Mary and ecumenical dialogue?

Father Haffner: I have often treated ecumenical questions concerning Our Lady in this work.

While there is considerable agreement between Catholics and Orthodox on Mariology, it is heartening that there is also growing appreciation of Mary in Reformed circles.

Indeed, one Reformed theologian, whom I have cited in Chapter 7, John Macquarrie, writes: “It is Mary who has come to symbolize that perfect harmony between the divine will and the human response, so that it is she who gives meaning to the expression Co-Redemptrix.”1

Mary is also Mediatrix for the angels, as Eastern theology has often pointed out. Mary, being nearest to God, is the only one worthy of receiving all of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

St. Gregory Palamas pointed out the importance of the Theotokos after her departure from this world: “To the degree that she is closer to God than all those who have drawn close to him, by so much has the Theotokos been deemed worthy of greater audience. I do not speak of men alone, but also of the angelic hierarchies themselves.”2

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1 J. Macquarrie, “Mary for All Christians,” (London: Collins, 1990), p. 113.

2 St. Gregory Palamas, “A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary,” (Homily 37).

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