God’s Preemptive Strikes

Usually, the Church proclaims a dogma in reaction to a spreading heresy. But the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were preemptively declared to prepare for future heresies.

August 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, a dogma defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 proclaiming that Mary, having completed the course of her life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. It “piggybacks” on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which proclaimed that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Among other things, these dogmas consecrate the “bookends” of man’s bodily existence on earth. That should give us pause.

Usually, the Church proclaims a dogma in reaction to a spreading heresy. For example, in 431 the Church proclaimed the dogma of Mary as Mother of God (or theotokos, “God bearer”) against the rising heresy of Nestorianism, the idea that Christ was of two persons, one human and one divine. But both the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the dogma of the Assumption had no such heresy (at the time) to react against. In fact, both concepts were widely believed, and the only strong objection was that the dogmas did not need to be declared and would only “stir up the waters.”

So, why declare the dogmas? By formally defining graces given to the physical body of Mary, perhaps God was issuing a “preemptive strike” to the ideologies that have wreaked havoc on our bodies. The Immaculate Conception proclaimed that a purely human body—like yours and mine—had been conceived without sin; and the Assumption promulgated that a totally human body—again, like yours and mine—had been assumed into Heaven. 

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In other words, the human body—yours and mine—is something sacred. The conception of a human being was declared as sacred; the passage from this life to the next of a human body was declared as sacred. The beginning and ending of our lives (and everything in between) were defined as something belonging to God and not for us to expropriate.

The declaration of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma came about as the Industrial Revolution was getting into full force, from which emerged the two modern economic systems of capitalism and communism (with its variant of socialism). Often seen as at odds with each other, each saw the individual man (or woman) as an economic unit, a thing, and not as the image of God. As a corollary, each had little if any regard for the family. 

In the end, whether man became a wage slave or a state slave made little difference. Both would advance the sexual revolution, and the resultant destruction of the family, because it meant more workers and therefore more profit, either for the corporation or the state. This was strengthened by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, which said that man was not a little below the angels, just a cut above the apes, and could be treated as such.

The Assumption came after two world wars that saw approximately 100 million people killed, a worldwide economic depression, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the advancement of the totalitarian state. It was a cheapening of human life by man himself unparalleled in human history. 

The dogma preceded the Sexual Revolution of the ’60s and the belief that the human body was ours to do with as we liked. We would decide how and when life would begin and what lives have value. We would define and use our bodies as we chose, and then we—or those with enough power—would determine when and how we shall pass to the next life. 

Before the feminist outcry of “My body, my choice,” God was proclaiming this especially through a woman’s body. It was through a woman’s body that God came into our world, and that woman would be the pattern of how we, too, can get to the next. It is almost as though God were saying, “I see where you’re going. No.”

G.K. Chesterton said that “The trend of the good is always toward incarnation.” God is good. He saw His creation as good, and so He wanted to become part of it; hence The Incarnation. He did this through Mary, and so when we diminish her role, or the honor due to her because of that role, we diminish The Incarnation. If Mary is not unique in all creation, then neither is Christ.

We hear much of the world’s descent into materialism, but, in a way, we are not materialist enough. We live in an “anti-incarnational” culture that has most of us living artificial lives. We relate to one another not in person but through screens. Our food is artificial, and we pump ourselves with chemicals to make up for the lack. Our pleasures are artificial, whether they be the computer-generated movies we watch or the modern gladiatorial games of suprahuman athletes. Gender is “fluid” and subject to change at our whim. And now we seek to make our intelligence artificial.

Catholicism is a materialist faith. We believe the Word became Flesh. We believe we can receive that Flesh at Mass. We believe in six other sacraments whereby natural means—human gestures and words, oil and water—have supernatural effects. We believe that creation, especially human creation, is something intrinsically good. Catholicism is a materialist faith. We believe the Word became Flesh. We believe we can receive that Flesh at Mass.Tweet This

When our Lord worked a miracle in the Gospels, He often did so in a sensuous way: putting his fingers into a man’s ears, touching the tongue of another, spitting and wadding up clay to smear on a man’s eyes. The human body was not something ancillary for Him but part and parcel of who He was, and is.

So, these dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption can be seen not as reactions to heresies but as God’s preventatives against all the anti-materialist beliefs that demean our bodies. They remind us of the true worth of who we are and what we’ve been given. And Mary is the key.

The solemnity of the Assumption comes in August, the pinnacle of summer, when the vegetable garden is yielding its last fruits and we seek to snatch a few more days of leisure before the school year begins. It is a good time to reflect on creation, especially our creation.

We are not part of God’s “HR Department.” We are His children. We are sacred, and no one knows the sacredness of a child more than a mother, the bearer and nurturer of life. Mary, not nature, is our mother. In her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, she reveals the grandeur of our beginning and the glory of our end. 

At Cana and when He hung on the cross, our Lord addressed her as “woman,” and woman she is, the highest honor of our race. Any belief which violates the integrity of the body cannot be Catholic. Mary stands against any attempt to demean or manipulate the human body. She stands for the beauty and sanctity of the body of each of her children.


  • Robert B. Greving

    Robert B. Greving teaches Latin and English grammar at a Maryland high school. Mr. Greving served five years in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps following his graduation from the Dickinson School of Law.

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