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-by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese


The Evolution of Mary(Part 2)

(Second of two parts; click here to read Part 1)

In a similar spirit, in Mary Through the Centuries, Pelikan notes the seemingly paradoxical consequences of the encounter between institutional Catholicism and Mariology since the mid-nineteenth century. The modern age has yielded both an acceleration of papal pronouncements on Mary's status and a proliferation of her officially acknowledged appearances, hence both an upsurge of doctrinal initiative and of popular devotion. But, with the upsurge of feminism, it has also produced a full-scale assault on her as an appropriate, or even acceptable, model of womanhood. Pelikan does not discuss the feminist challenge directly. Rather, he focuses upon the challenge that the modern doctrines of Mary pose to the prospect for ecumenism. In Pelikan's view, both the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption offer arresting examples of the development of doctrine, the very notion of which offends most Protestants, so that "the doctrine of Mary proved to be one of the most important places to observe and test the processes by which great ideas have developed."

Pelikan regards Pius XII's promulgation of the dogma of the assumption in the bull Munificentissimus Deus in 1950 as "perhaps the most provocative illustration of the position of Mariology in its entirety as the most controversial case study of the problems represented by 'the development of doctrine' as a historical and ecumenical issue." Yet, precedents for official recognition of the assumption abounded. It had long been an object both of popular piety and of liturgical observance. Artists had often depicted Mary as Queen of Heaven with angels in attendance. It could, accordingly, be taken as eminently natural that the assumption evolved over many centuries from its popular and liturgical base into speculative theology and ultimately into an official dogma. But important complications clouded the issue, which Protestants saw as anything but natural.

When, in 1854, Pius ...

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