Starting in the early to mid-nineteenth century, Catholic theology witnessed a profound retrieval of patristic reflection on the interrelationship of the Virgin Mary and the Church. This dynamic reached a doctrinal high point with the declarations of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI concerning Mary as “type of the Church” and “Mother of the Church,” and it also provided the impetus for further theological exploration of the deeper unity of the Mother of Christ and his mystical body.
In A Bride Adorned, John L. Nepil examines how this interrelationship has been formulated in modern theology in terms of perichoresis, a notion of unconfused reciprocity or interpenetration drawn from Christology and Trinitarian theology first applied to Mary and the Church by the nineteenth-century German theologian Matthias Scheeben. In the first part of the study, Nepil treats the foundations of this formulation, outlining its historical background and creative articulation by Scheeben. The second part tracks developments of Scheeben’s insight in the thought of twentieth-century theological luminaries Charles Journet, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, and Leo Scheffczyk, each of whom distinctively articulate the shared conviction that neither Mary nor the Church can be understood apart from each other. The third part draws out the far-reaching doctrinal and pastoral implications of this deepened account of the Mary–Church relation, establishing its vital importance for ongoing theological and ecclesial renewal.
Through his careful engagement with these figures, Nepil shows how Mary and the Church are to be understood as two realizations of a single mystery. This vantage on Mary and the Church sheds new light on the vision of the Council Fathers at Vatican II, and it charts a course for the Church’s flourishing via a return to her Marian heart.
Fr. John L. Nepil is a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, and a member of the priestly association of the Companions of Christ. Having finished a doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome, he now serves as vice-rector and professor of theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
“Even after Vatican II, the place of Mary in ecclesiology is all too often presented as an appendix, if at all, rather than as the integral, organic—even fundamental—part, such that Hans Us von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger fittingly call her ‘the Church at the Source.’ Still more striking is the presentation of Mary that we find here: as so integrally united to the Church that they share a relationship that is best presented as a perichoresis. In support of this thesis, Fr. John Nepil masterfully exposits the Marian-ecclesiological theology of Matthias Scheeben, but also that of Charles Journet, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, and Leo Scheffczyk. To exposit this theme in the corpus of any one of these prolific authors would be noteworthy. To do so in all of them, in view of demonstrating their general accord—even harmony—despite their widely differing approaches, is nothing less than remarkable. Fr. Nepil convincingly draws us to conclude that the Church must be studied in Mary and Mary in the Church. And Fr. Nepil must be studied to show us the way!”
—Michele Schumacher, University of Fribourg
“Nepil wants us to understand that Lumen Gentium’s dictum that Mary is the prototype of the Church proposes a vast but essential ecclesiological program. Nothing could be more pastorally important in an age hostile to the virginity and indifferent to the maternity whose exemplar is to be found in Mary.”
—Guy Mansini, O.S.B., Ave Maria University
“In this doctrinally engaging and spiritually enriching book, Fr. John Nepil explores ‘the deep and mysterious rapport’ of Mary and the Church and shows why the rediscovery of this rapport is essential to meeting the ecclesial challenges of our times. Keenly aware of the ‘bitter fruit of the Church’s lost relationship to Mary,’ Nepil deftly brings together profound and illuminating insights from five master theologians (Scheeben, Journet, von Balthasar, Bouyer, and Scheffczyk), as he draws from their work implications aimed at an authentic reinvigoration of the Church today. Highly recommended.”
—Margaret M. Turek, St. Patrick’s Seminary and University