To Jesus Through Mary: Understanding the Four Marian Dogmas
The Catholic Church has always revered Mary and recognized her importance in the lives of its people.
After Jesus, Mary was the most important person to ever live.
The Catholic Church has always revered Mary and recognized her importance in the lives of its people. It has even elevated four teachings on Mary to the status of dogma, or a divinely inspired teaching. These four dogmas emphasize Mary’s personal relationship to God and her essential role in Salvation History.
But why were these teachings so important that the Church proclaimed them as Dogmas? While these teachings may seem to focus solely on the identity of Mary, they actually help us understand important truths about the identity of Christ Himself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (487).
So what are the four Marian Dogmas of the Catholic Church? Let’s take a look.
The first Marian Dogma identifies Mary as the Mother of God, or Theotokos, a Greek word meaning “God-bearer.”
This title went uncontested for the first centuries of the Church not only because it has scriptural evidence (Luke 1:43) but also because it follows logically from the acknowledgment of Christ’s divinity. Mothers do not give birth to a “nature,” but rather a person; therefore, if Mary is Jesus’ mother and Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God.
The Council at Ephesus proclaimed this dogma in 431 primarily as a response to the Nestorian heresy that casted doubt on Jesus’ dual natures as both fully God and fully Man. This teaching plays an integral part in christological dogma as it affirms Jesus’s identity through the recognition of his mother.
Through her Divine Motherhood, Mary lovingly cooperated in the salivic work of her Son. For this reason, the Catechism writes, “she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (968). Not only did she become the Mother of God, but she also became the Mother of the Church and of each one of us.
The second Marian Dogma states that Mary is “Ever-Virgin.”
Mary’s virginity before the birth of Christ is clearly stated in Scripture (see Luke 1:26-27) and helped to clarify Jesus’ role as the long-awaited Messiah, foreshadowed by the prophet Isiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (7:14). Having a virgin conceive and bear a child, an ordinarily impossible task, magnifies God’s glory in the Incarnation.
However, the Church also believes that Mary maintained her virginity even after Christ’s birth.
Catholic biblical scholars believe that Mary had taken a vow of virginity before the Annunciation and advocate that she would have kept this vow even after giving birth to Jesus. Her virginity is seen as more than a physical, bodily reality; it also expresses her interior reality–singularly consecrated to God.
The third dogma recognizes Mary as “without-sin.”
The teaching of the Immaculate Conception often confuses people, including Catholics. While some mistakenly believe this teaching speaks about Jesus’ conception, it actually focuses on Mary’s conception.
The Church believes that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin even from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. The angel Gabriel’s greeting at the Annunciation affirms this belief: “Hail, Full of Grace…” Gabriel calling Mary by this title was not a promise of the future, but a recognition of this unique gift already given.
It’s not that Mary didn’t need a Savior. In the Magnificat, she clearly states that her “spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” However, unlike the rest of humanity, who received salvation after Christ’s death, Mary received the fruit of redemption by way of anticipation.
God preemptively gave her the grace merited from Christ’s death and resurrection, in order for Mary to give her fiat–her free and total yes– and take on her role as the Mother of God.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is one of the two times in Church History that the Pope has invoked Papal Infallibility, further emphasizing its importance.
This month, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption and its status as a Holy Day of Obligation should clue us in to its great importance. In fact, this dogma was the only other instance in which a pope has invoked Papal Infallibility..
Unlike our departed brothers and sisters, whose bodies and souls separated at the moment of death, the Church teaches that both Mary’s body and soul were brought to heaven at the end of her earthly life.
The act of God assuming people into heaven does have Scriptural evidence (see: Enoich in Hebrew 11:5 and Elijah in 2 Kings) and the tradition of Mary’s Assumption dates back to the earliest Christians.
The Church sees this great act of grace as a consequence of Mary’s Divine Motherhood and her Immaculate Conception. If death as we know it resulted from original sin, it makes sense that God would spare Mary, conceived without sin, from this fate.
However, this dogma also emphasizes an important teaching for the faithful–the resurrection of the body. We can take comfort and find hope in Mary’s Assumption because it foreshadows what God will do for all of the faithful—Body and Soul rejoined in Heaven.
Like in all things, the Blessed Mother points us to her Son. Through knowing her, we can more deeply know Jesus.