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NOVA ET VETERA
from issue no. 09 - 2009

Archive of 30Giorni

“We believe that Mary is the Mother, who remained ever Virgin, of the Incarnate Word, our God and Savior Jesus Christ”



by Lorenzo Cappelletti


<I>Saint Ambrose</I>, Chapel of San Vittore Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan

Saint Ambrose, Chapel of San Vittore Basilica of Saint Ambrose, Milan

Father Ignace de la Potterie, the great Jesuit exegete, the author of the article reprinted here, died some time ago in Heverlee in the Belgium where he was born and where he lived the last years of his life. But from 1992 to 1999, he collaborated regularly in Rome with 30Days, among other things honoring us with his friendship.
In this case he contributed by reviewing the contents and emphasizing the relevance of his contribution to the Conference on the occasion of the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Capua in 392, a council somewhat neglected, even if it is without doubt the first Marian Council. It is therefore useful to say something about it.
During the winter of 391/392, Pope Siricius (384-399), convened at Capua – among the most important cities of the Empire, on the Via Latina, in the heart of Campania – a Plenary Council of Western Bishops. It was convened to examine, inter alia, the doctrine of Illyrian Bishop Bonosus, who denied the perpetual virginity of Mary: the issue in fact for which that Council was to be later remembered.
The problem had actually arisen a few years earlier, in the time of Pope Damasus (366-384), when a certain Helvidius had circulated a pamphlet in Rome in which he claimed that Mary, after the birth of Jesus, had led a normal married life and had had other children. It seems that by doing so he wanted above all to give more dignity to the married state, which he considered downgraded by the emphasis some people were putting on the superiority of the gift of virginity.
This thesis, rebutted early on by Jerome, was reproposed during the pontificate of Siricius by a former monk, Iovinianus, excommunicated in a Roman synod with eight others – his followers, and Bonosus, with whom the Council of Capua was concerned. On that Council “Ambrose of Milan left the imprint of his strong and prudent personality” (as John Paul II put it, in his speech to the participants at the conference, 24 May 1992), to whom not only Epistle 71 de Bonoso is owed but also a treatise, De institutione virginis, which echoed, on the occasion of the velatio of the virgin Ambrosia, the response he made on the issue at that Council.
The issue is one of those that have reappeared periodically over the course of Church history. Not for nothing did Paul VI stress, first in the Apostolic Exhortation Signum Magnum, of 1967, that “the most chaste wife of Joseph remained a virgin in childbirth and after childbirth, as the Catholic Church has always believed and professed”, and then solemnly in that magnificent document Professio fidei known as the Creed of the People of God of 30 June 1968: “We believe that Mary is the Mother, who remained ever Virgin, of the Incarnate Word, our God and Savior Jesus Christ”.


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