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Munificentissimus Deus


On Nov. 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Church's doctrine of the assumption of mary into heaven. The phrase Munificentissimus Deus (Most Bountiful God) both entitles and begins the document of definition, an apostolic constitution.

Apart from its survey of various descriptions and defenses of the Assumption, and the definition itself, this papal bull has established itself as a milestone in the history of mariology for: (1) the capital significance which the Pope gives to the universal contemporary belief in the Assumption as evidenced by the almost unanimous concurrence of the bishops of the world when he asked their opinion: "This outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful by itself and in a way altogether certain and free of all errors, manifested this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to His Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly"; (2) the lack of systematic appeal to Holy Scripture as basis for the proclamation. The Pope states that all the "proofs and considerations of the Fathers and theologians are based on the Scriptures as their ultimate foundation," but he does not analyze individual texts (as did Pius IX in Ineffabilis

Deus, the definition of the immaculate conception). It is noteworthy that (1), despite the long history of differences on the meaning of the proto-evangelium (Gn. 3.15), he forthrightly applies the text to Mary; (2) without any exegetic reservation he alludes to "theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the Fathers, have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture"; (3) with approval he refers to St. Bonaventure who applied to Mary "in a kind of accommodated sense" words of the Canticle (8.5) which helped to justify, in the original sermon, belief in the Assumption.

Then, after drawing practical moral consequences from this belief, the document concludes with the solemn statement: "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."

Bibliography: pius XII, "Munificentissimus Deus," Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950) 753771; Eng. Catholic Mind 49 (Jan.1951) 6578. b. capelle, "Théologic de l'Assomption d'après la bulle 'Munificentissimus Deus."' Nouvelle revue théologique 72 (1950) 100927. Sacrae theologiae summa 2:2.201223.

[j. w. langlinais]

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