70th Anniversary of the Definition of the Dogma of the Assumption

70 years ago today, Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven:

[B]y the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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.

Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.
(Munificentissimus Deus, n. 44-45)

Mary, assumed body and soul into Heaven, pray for us and help us attain heavenly glory!

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I never had theological doubt about the Assumption, but wondered why it was solemnly defined specifically in 1950.

I now suspect, beside the main theological reason, a side issue: Pope Pius 12 had looked ahead and saw in the near future two false teachings would bear ill fruit.

One group in the 1960s began the move towards redefining Jesus as a social and political leader (or leaders, maybe not just one individual) whose only “divinity” was in working for universal equality and progress. As we can, too.

Another group, starting in the 1960s, over- spiritualized Jesus. The more spiritual He got in His lifetime, the more divine he got. The only “miracle” He (or his legend, or Community) performed was getting others to recognize their inner divinity too.

Both groups focus not on the physical, individual Jesus but on the Jesus community memory, our human experience of Jesus. Whether a specific man or an ancient community didn’t matter.

The Assumption, raised to level of dogma, refuted the roots of those heresies, made them less damaging than they might have been. Jesus was a specific physical individual, who had a mother who bore him in her womb. He was miraculous right from conception, no gradual divinity, such that his mother’s body was preserved from corruption.

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There wasn’t any doubt at the time either (nor had there been really in the past for many, many centuries if ever). The only question, if any, was whether it was properly a revealed truth–de fide–or a lesser degree of certainty (e.g. cent. certa or de fides ecclesiastica). As the Pope noted in Munificentssiumus Deus it had already been infallibly affirmed by the Church’s ordinary and universal Magisterium, as well as the sensus fidei of all the faithful.

In any event, in 1946, when Pius XII sent out his letter asking the opinions of the bishops throughout the world (Deiparae Virginis Mariae), he mentions that there were two volumes full of petitions from the episcopate and others from 1849 to 1940 requesting its confirmation as a revealed dogma and that 200 bishops at the First Vatican Council had asked the Council to consider it (the Council of course was cut short). The Popes subsequent to that Council had taken up much of what had been on the agenda (the code of canon law, reform the breviary, etc.), but this was one thing still unfinished.

Beyond all that, like you said, there were current concerns related to materialism, as the Pope notes in Munificentissimus Deus (interestingly, he thought it would help with ecumenism–that is true faith in God, Mary’s assistance, and the truth as opposed to a false irenicism that would hide or downplay the truth to achieve unity):

It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.

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