Mariology and Matthias Scheeben August 12, 2018 13:57

In anticipation of the feast of the Assumption, we begin today a new series by guest contributor Andrew Kuiper, who will be writing theological reflections on various of our books. His first selection is Matthias Scheeben's Mariology.

Along with John Henry Newman and Adam Möhler, Matthias Scheeben (1835–1888) stands as one of the giants of 19th century Catholic fundamental theology. Cardinal Manning praised his great Dogmatik as “a profuse exposition of the deep things of faith in the light of [an] intelligence guided by the illumination of the Church.”[1] A century after his birth, Scheeben was hailed by no less than Pope Pius XI as a “man of genius” whose work the pontiff recommended to priests and scholars as “high and brilliant.” In 1961, Hans Urs von Balthasar called him “the greatest German theologian to date since the time of Romanticism,” in that “Scheeben brought the Thomism of the schools to Germany from Rome, but he expounded it in a way which made it possible for the concerns of the previous age to come to life again, even if in a different form.” [2] To von Balthasar’s eye, Scheeben accomplishes for German theology a much-needed shift from a purely Romantic aesthetic theology to a genuinely Catholic project of theological aesthetics.

Scheeben’s work Mariology exemplifies these strengths. He shows himself the beneficiary of patristic Mariological themes and insights from Newman, whose letter to Pusey he cites multiple times in this volume. He is also the inheritor of Möhler’s ecclesiology especially in understanding the Church as the primordial sacrament (or first creaturely reality by which God brings humanity into contact with the divine life); and as the ongoing Incarnation (or the perpetuation of Christ’s presence on earth through the life of His Body the Church).[3]

Scheeben’s genius lies in the formal union of the mystery of the Church with the mystery of Mary as a matter of dogmatics. While others had tried to locate Mary’s significance primarily in her conciliar title of theotokos or in the exegetical image of the New Eve, Scheeben attempted to unite these two formally in a “bridal motherhood.” Mary’s role in the economy of salvation is not limited to Christ’s entry into history, but encompasses the entire mystery of humanity’s deification through the Church. Early liturgical settings for the four major Marian feasts[4] were taken from the Song of Songs, identifying Mary with the spouse of God. In the high middle ages, the Song of Songs was often interpreted as a love song between Christ and Mary specifically. Scheeben’s theology is the culmination of taking this paradox seriously: How can Mary be both the mother and spouse of Christ?

Mariology stands at a juncture of many streams. Manning said that Scheeben’s other works “fully and luminously exhibited the mind of the [First] Vatican Council;”[5] here Scheeben faithfully embraces the patristic and the Thomist traditions; he inspires the best of 20th century ressourcement theology—think of Ratzinger’s Daughter Zion or de Lubac’s The Motherhood of the Church. Moreover, marrying ecclesiology with Mariology so as to put ancient patristic and medieval themes into conversation with Romantic-influenced reflection upon the doctrine of Creation, he also anticipates themes of 19th and 20th century Russian Sophiology.

Much of this overlap can be attributed to a common return to patristic writings. Already the relationship of Mary to the Church and to Creation through divine Wisdom is evident also in the work of St. Louis de Montfort, who was inspired by St. Cyril of Alexandria. However a theological perspective need not reduce these currents to merely sociological phenomena. Research follows desire and theological synthesis can remain elusive in even the best scholarly conditions. The 19th and 20th centuries’ resurgence of Mariology and ecclesiology manifests an ecclesial desire, active in the two Vatican councils and in the significant dogmatic pronouncements of both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, to focus upon the significance of Mary for the Church.

It is fitting that the Church first defined the maters of Christ, the Trinity, and pressing soteriological question of grace and justification. Now, in our age, for the first time since the council of Ephesus, Mary has become “a vital point”[6] of dogmatic interest the implications of which reach far beyond controversies between Catholic and Protestant. We do well to contemplate these mysteries afresh as a light to guide us through our current cultural, political, philosophical, ecological, and above all spiritual crises.

--Andrew Kuiper

Click the cover of the book to see it in our store:


[1] Henry Manning, “Preface,” in A Manual of Catholic Theology by Wilhelm and Scannell, based on Scheeben’s Dogmatik.

[2] Glory of the Lord Vol. 1, p.102.

[3] Maximillian Heinrich Heim, Joseph Ratzinger Life in the Church and Living Theology: Fundamental of Ecclesiology with Reference to Lumen Gentium, p. 56; Michael J Himes, Ongoing Incarnation: Johann Adam Möhler and the Beginnings of Modern Ecclesiology, p. 328.

[4] The Purification, Annunciation, Assumption, and Nativity of the Virgin.

[5] Henry Manning, “Preface,” in A Manual of Catholic Theology by Wilhelm and Scannell, based on Scheeben’s Dogmatik.

[6] Geukers, “Introduction,” in Scheeben, Mariology, xx.