Spring 2003

Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole

Joseph Ratzinger Benedict XVI

“The ‘biological’ and the human are inseparable in the figure of Mary, just as are the human and the ‘theological.’”

1. The background and significance of the Second Vatican Council’s declarations on Mariology


The question of the significance of Marian doctrine and piety cannot disregard the historical situation of the Church in which the question arises. We can understand and respond correctly to the profound crisis of post-Conciliar Marian doctrine and devotion only if we see this crisis in the context of the larger development of which it is a part. Now, we can say that two major spiritual movements defined the period stretching from the end of the First World War to the Second Vatican Council, two movements that had—albeit in very different ways—certain “charismatic features.” On the one side, there was a Marian movement that could claim charismatic roots in La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima. It had steadily grown in vigor since the Marian apparitions of the mid-1800s. By the time it reached its peak under Pius XII, its influence had spread throughout the whole Church. On the other side, the inter-war years had seen the development of the liturgical movement, especially in Germany, the origins of which can be traced to the renewal of Benedictine monasticism emanating from Solesmes, as well as to the Eucharistic inspiration of Pius X. Against the background of the Youth Movement, it gained—in Central Europe, at least—an increasingly wider influence throughout the Church at large. The ecumenical and biblical movements quickly joined with it to form a single mighty stream. Its fundamental goal—the renewal of the Church from the sources of Scripture and the primitive form of the Church’s prayer—likewise received its first official confirmation under Pius XII, in his encyclicals on the Church and on the liturgy.1


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1. Cf. on this point J. Frings, Das Konzil und die moderne Gedankenwelt (Cologne, 1962), 31–37.