Munificentissimus Deus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Munificentissimus Deus
Latin for 'The most bountiful God'
Apostolic constitution of Pope Pius XII
Coat of arms of Pope Pius XII
Signature date 1 November 1950
SubjectEx cathedra definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma
← Bis saeculari die

Munificentissimus Deus (Latin: The most bountiful God) is the name of an apostolic constitution written by Pope Pius XII. It defines ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the first ex-cathedra infallible statement since the official ruling on papal infallibility was made at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). In 1854 Pope Pius IX made an infallible statement with Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a basis for this dogma. The decree was promulgated on 1 November 1950.[1]

Dogma of the Assumption[edit]

Titian's Assumption of the Virgin (Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa, Venice)

On 1 November 1950, invoking his dogmatic authority, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma:

By 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.[2]

Historical background[edit]

Pope Pius XII's previous encyclical Deiparae Virginis Mariae (1 May 1946) to all Catholic bishops stated that for a long time past, numerous petitions had been received from cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, priests, religious of both sexes, associations, universities and innumerable private persons, all begging that the bodily Assumption into heaven of the Blessed Virgin should be defined and proclaimed as a dogma of faith.[3] This was also fervently requested by almost two hundred fathers in the Vatican Council (1869–1870).[3]

Following the example of Pope Pius IX, who canvassed Catholic bishops before proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pius XII asked all bishops for their opinion.

Actually God, who from all eternity regards Mary with a most favorable and unique affection, has "when the fullness of time came" put the plan of his providence into effect in such a way that all the privileges and prerogatives he had granted to her in his sovereign generosity were to shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony. And, although the Church has always recognized this supreme generosity and the perfect harmony of graces and has daily studied them more and more throughout the course of the centuries, still it is in our own age that the privilege of the bodily Assumption into heaven of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, has certainly shone forth more clearly.[4]

At issue was not the belief in the Assumption, but its dogmatisation. By August 1950, 1191 bishops had responded.[5] Munificentissimus Deus reports popular acclaim and "nearly unanimous" approval of the contemporary bishops. The names of the bishops attending the dogma celebration in 1950 are listed at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica.

Review of Catholic beliefs[edit]

Reflecting on the history of this belief in Catholic Christian tradition, Pope Pius XII writes that "the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church have never failed to draw enlightenment from this fact."[6] Munificentissimus Deus reviews the history of Catholic liturgy and the many liturgical books "which deal with the feast either of the Dormition or of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin".[7] Munificentissimus Deus cites also the teaching of previous popes and bishops and such writers as John of Damascus, Francis de Sales, Robert Bellarmine, Anthony of Padua, and Albert the Great, among others.

George Tavard wrote: "In the theology of Pope Pius XII, the Assumption of Mary's body and soul into heaven flow from her Immaculate Conception. The end balances the beginning, both having their profound reason in Mary's mission as the Theotokos."[8]

Relevance to the faithful[edit]

Written not long after the devastation of World War II, the encyclical conveys the hope that meditation on Mary’s assumption will lead the faithful to a greater awareness of our common dignity as the human family.[9] In the dogmatic statement, the phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life" was carefully written to leave open the question of whether or not Mary died before her Assumption, or whether, like the Assumption of the Prophet Elijah, Mary was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed in the formulation. In articles 14, 17 and 20 of the dogmatic pronouncement, however, it is stated that Mary had indeed died: "the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but ... she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ."

The entire decree (and the title itself) is also worded to suggest that Mary's Assumption was not in any sense a logical necessity, but rather a divine gift to Mary as Mother of God. Munificentissimus Deus teaches that Mary lived and completed her life as a shining example to the human race. The gift of her assumption is offered to all the faithful and signifies what to hope for at the end of time. Her assumption signifies God's intention to all the faithful.

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.

Non-Catholic opinion[edit]

Paul Tillich asked fellow Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in March 1950, about eight months before the decree was promulgated, if he expected the Pope to make the declaration about Mary's assumption ex cathedra. Niebuhr replied: "I don't think so; he is too clever for that; it would be a slap in the face of the whole modern world and it would be dangerous for the Roman Church to do that today".[10]

Among the Eastern Orthodox and miaphysite Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, the doctrine of the Dormition of the Theotokos is different from the Assumption.

Carl Jung, in the final chapters of his 1952 book Answer to Job, called the dogma "the most important religious event since the Reformation".[11] He chastized its Protestant critics for overlooking its real psychological significance. Namely, Jung saw it as the manifestation of a culminating desire for completion in the Christian psyche; recognizing the feminine side of the divine would ease the inevitable incarnation of the Holy Ghost in humanity.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Catholicism by Frank K. Flinn, J. Gordon Melton 207 ISBN 0-8160-5455-X page 267
  2. ^ Munificentissimus Deus, 44
  3. ^ a b "Deiparae Virginis Mariae (May 1, 1946) | PIUS XII". Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  4. ^ Munificentissimus Deus, §3
  5. ^ Pius, XII, "068 - Munificentissimus Deus" (1959). Marian Reprints. Paper 48
  6. ^ Munificentissimus Deus, 14
  7. ^ Munificentissimus Deus, 15
  8. ^ Tavard, George H., The Thousand Faces of the Virgin Mary, Collegeille, Minnesota: Michael Glazier Books, 1996, p.198
  9. ^ Howell, Dr Kenneth (2011-09-01). "Why Did Pius XII Proclaim the Dogma of Mary's Assumption?". The Coming Home Network. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  10. ^ Tillich, Paul. A History of Christian Thought: From its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (1972), Simon and Schuster (edited from his lectures and published posthumously by C. E. Braaten), ISBN 0-671-21426-8. p. 224.
  11. ^ a b C. G. Jung. "Answer to Job" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 November 2022. Retrieved 1 September 2020.

Further reading[edit]

Literature before the definition

  • Pope Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus Defining the Dogma of the Assumption, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. XXXXII (1950), n. 15, pp. 753–773
  • C. Balic, Bibliotheca de Assumptione BVM ex Omnibus Saeculis, Rome, 1948, 2 Volumes
  • Otto Faller, De Priorum Saeculorum Silentio circa Assumptionem BMV, Rome, 1946
  • G. Hentrich et Moos, Petitiones de Assumptione Corpora BVM in Caelum Definiendae ad S.Sedem Delatae, Vatican City, 1944; 2 Volumes
  • G. Hentrich, Assomption de la Sainte Vierge, in Manoir, I, pp 621–658
  • J.M. Bover, La Asuncion de Maria, Estudio teologico historico, Madrid, 1947
  • J. Ernst, Die leibliche Himmelfahrt Mariens, Paris 1925

External links[edit]