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St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Pneumatological Titles of Mary

St. Maximilian Kolbe’s use of three titles—Complement of the Trinity, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and Created Immaculate Conception—are both Marian and pneumatological. This is the heart of his important contribution to the theological treatise on the Holy Spirit, and indeed may well be the heart both of pneumatology as well as mariology.

The titles only appear in the writings of St. Maximilian after 1932. Whether the order of their appearance is also their chronological order in the mind of St. Maximilian cannot be determined, as least as regards Complement and Spouse. It would seem that Created and Uncreated Immaculate Conception are terms which only entered his conscious reflection just before his arrest. How much before the dictation (Feb. 17, 1941) of his last material for the book on the Immaculate Conception, never completed, is not certain. Nonetheless the insight is not unconnected with the many years of reflection on Our Lady’s autodefinition at Lourdes: I am the Immaculate Conception and that of God on Mount Sinai: I am who am (1).

That apparition of Our Lady occurred, not before, but after the definition, as it were not merely to confirm, but to indicate the practical implications of the definition for the Church and the salvation of all souls, viz., what St. Maximilian calls the “incorporation of the mystery into the Church,” or what St. Francis calls “repair of the Church,” as learned from Christ himself. St. Maximilian in his treatment of Our Lady’s presence in the Church across the centuries (2), immediately after treating her “preexistence” in the mind of God and then in the Scriptures (3), concentrates on two particular events: Rue de Bac in 1830 (4) and Lourdes in 1854 (5). The special attention given to the enlightenment and conversion of the skeptical Jew, Alphonse Ratisbon, in 1830 (perhaps paralleling that of St. Francis through the intercession of the Queen of the Angels or Mediatress of grace in 1206) and the revelation of Mary’s name immediately precede the discussion of the created-uncreated Immaculate Conception (6), showing how Marian presence and mediation at the heart of the Church rest directly on the truth of the speculative and ontological dimensions of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and the pneumatology thereby entailed.

The consideration suggesting a link between Spouse and Immaculate Conception, namely that spouses share the same name, and that the name of Mary being Immaculate Conception, that must also be the proper name of the Holy Spirit, dates from August 1940 (7).

Whatever the chronological order of the titles in the mind of the Saint, their logical relation or progression from one to another also suggests—a parte rei—a parallel with the three modes of theology according to St. Bonaventure. Thus the title Complement of the Trinity applied to Mary, though apparently not consciously intended by St. Maximilian, does link his reflections with patristic pneumatology, and ultimately with biblical, hence provides a link with symbolic theology. The title Spouse of the Holy Spirit which he consciously borrowed from St. Francis provides a link with mystical theology, orthopraxis as it is sometimes called today (8). Finally the titles Created and Uncreated Immaculate Conception stand at the heart of both mariology and pneumatology (and we might add ecclesiology) and provide a link with the preoccupations of theology in the proper or academic mode: fides quaerens intellectum.

1. The Immaculate: Complement of the Trinity

The (logically) first of the titles with which St. Maximilian helps us understand what it means for the Blessed Mother to be a part or quasi-part of the Blessed Trinity is Complement, employed by him at least five times between 1935 and 1941: twice in the writings and three times in the ascetical conferences (9).

Complement—pleroma or fullness of perfection in Christian Greek—has a rich theological tradition behind it, rooted in the Scriptures of both Testaments. The opposite of complement, taken in its precise theological connotation, viz., the complete, the perfect, as St. Bonaventure notes, is incomplete, imperfect, unfinished or “infinite.” In this sense the divine essence is not “infinite” or unfinished, capable of being perfected, but all perfect, the pleroma of being, the plenitudo esse, or complementum, with a particular stress on esse as bonum, whence “incompletion” suggests malum, physical or moral, in some degree.

Closely related to the analysis of “complement” predicated of the divinity is the Seraphic Doctor’s discussion of the use of finite-infinite in theology. This discussion not only illuminates the theological tradition, but the mind of St. Maximilian as well, who at the time he began to use this title for our Lady was also intensely pondering that fifth volume of St. Bonaventure’s Opera Omnia which contains inter alia the famous Quaestiones Disputatae de Mysterio Ss. Trinitatis (q 4, a 1) where these observations are chiefly found (10).

Finite-infinite come, according to St. Bonaventure, from the Latin word finis or end, finality, term. The finite, etymologically, is something with an end, viz., terminated, limited. The infinite is that without end, unterminated, unlimited. In reality the variation of meaning, says St. Bonaventure, is considerable, but in theology these variations, however many, hinge fundamentally on a consideration of finis as complement and finis as term or limit.

End as complement or fullness of perfection, viz., pleroma, is another name for the divine essence or goodness, and as such without being to an end God is the end of all that he has created. End as term means limitation and may be taken in two senses: as the term or limit quantitatively, where it denotes perfection, but not all perfection, whence “finite being” denoting creature and “infinite” denoting absence of perfection; or as the term or limit qualitatively, where finite denotes this or that perfection but not all perfection, whereas infinite denotes plenitude of all perfection, viz., uncreated or infinite being.

Complement, however, may also be understood of God hypostatically as well as essentially. St. Bonaventure does not seem to have regularly employed the term in the hypostatic sense, using rather another term, then and since, more common in the Latin world for complement as designating the term or terminus a quo and ad quem of a divine procession (11). In this sense finis and limit or term may, without implying imperfection or absence of infinity, be used to denote a divine person, origin or term of one or the other procession: the incommunicable of Scotus. Such usage is encountered in Greek trinitarian theology. There complement or pleroma is used, as with Hesychius of Jerusalem, as a name, not as a synonym of person, but as the proper name of the Holy Spirit, final term of the second procession, beyond which are no other processions. To this Bonaventure does seem to allude in his discussion of the “limited” number of processions: limitation neither mathematically nor metaphysically, but “complementary,” or personal termination.

Whether or not St. Maximilian was fully aware of this history (12), in fact his views on the Immaculate as Complement of the Trinity rejoin and elaborate this oriental tradition, while remaining faithful to the Latin as presented by St. Bonaventure (13). What is more, with this in mind we can easily see how his use of a seemingly minor title of Mary in an original way prepares for that even more startling insight of the final dictation before his arrest.

In an earlier study of this subject (14) I pointed out that when St. Maximilian uses the title Complement of the Trinity for our Lady, he means not that the Trinity has her as a most perfect complement of the divine glory ad extra as every author to use this title of Mary had assumed it to mean, but that she is the complement of the Trinity, only she. The difference is that between to have and to be.

That difference explains why the Immaculate is called a part or quasi-part of the Trinity, not in the quantitative, but in the qualitative sense, a part in virtue of a unique closeness to the three divine persons, at once setting her apart from and above all other creatures, yet at the same time making possible their participation in the order of salvation. That is because the Immaculate, preserved free of all taint of original sin, is the exclusive possession of the three divine persons, not only as one, but also as distinct.

Thus in a beautiful prayer (15) to the Triune God the Saint says: “I adore you, O our heavenly Father, because you placed in the most pure womb of Mary your only-begotten Son. I adore you, O Son of God, because you condescended to enter the womb of Mary and became truly her actual Son. I adore you, O Holy Spirit, because you deigned to form in her immaculate womb the body of the Son of God. I adore you, O most Holy Trinity, O one God in holy Trinity for having ennobled the Immaculate in such a divine way…”

To be part of the Trinity, then, in so singular a way revolves about the divine Maternity, and by extension the spiritual maternity as well. For in loving the Immaculate the divine Persons love us. “For you alone God created the world. For you God called me into existence. Whence comes this my great good fortune?” (16) What is unique in this is precisely what is unique in being the Mother of God, “in whom alone God has been adored without par more than in any of his saints” (17). Yet what St. Maximilian means formally by the title Complement of the Trinity is not divine Maternity, nor “most perfect creature” or “firstborn daughter and handmaid of the Father,” the “full of grace.” Rather by this title he means to indicate the distinctive and exclusive feature of that spousal union with the Holy Spirit, so exalted, so singular that she could become and became the Mother of God: she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is the key text found in the dictation before his final arrest in 1941, a text competent scholars have qualified as an example of contemplative theology at its best:

What kind of union is this? It is above all interior, it is the union of her being with that of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit abides in her, lives in her, from the first moment of her existence, always and forever.

In what does this life of the Holy Spirit in her consist? He himself is love in her, the love of the Father and the Son, the love wherewith God loves himself, the love of the entire Trinity, fecund love, conception. In created resemblances loving union is more limited. Sacred Scripture tells us that they will be two in one flesh (cf. Gen. 2:24) and Jesus underscores: “Such that they are no longer two, but one flesh only.” In another way, without par, more rigorous, more interior, more essential, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculate, in her being and so renders Her the Fecund one, and this the first moment of her existence for her entire life, viz., forever. This Uncreated Immaculate Conception (the Holy Spirit) immaculately conceives in the womb of her (Mary’s) soul divine life, viz., the Immaculate Conception. And so the virginal womb of her body is reserved to Him, whom she conceives there in time: precisely because all involving matter occurs in time, even the divine life of the Man-God.

And so the return to God, the equal and contrary reaction, proceeds inversely from that of creation. As to creation (that passage from God) proceeds from the Father through the Son and the Spirit, while in the return, by means of the Spirit, the Son becomes incarnate in her womb and through Him love returns to the Father.

She, then, inserted into the love of the Most Holy Trinity becomes, from the very first moment of her existence, always, forever, the Complement of the Most Holy Trinity.

In the union of the Holy Spirit with her, not only does love bind these two beings, but the first of them is all the love of the Most Holy Trinity, while the second is all the love of creation, and thus in that union heaven is joined to earth, the whole heaven with the whole earth, the whole of Uncreated Love with the whole of created love: this is the vertex of love (18).

In virtue of this spousal union formally denoted by the title Complement Mary is able to enter as no other into the order of the hypostatic union, her soul being wholly divinized, because by the grace of the Immaculate Conception it has been “transubstantiated” into the Holy Spirit (19). Who is the Immaculate, he asks in a conference dating from Sept. 21, 1940? He answers: the Mother of God, the “full of grace,” the Complement of the Trinity — Mother of God in relation to the Son, “full of grace” (the absolutely predestined Filia Patris) in relation to the Father, Complement in relation to the Holy Spirit (20).

When St. Maximilian speaks of “exclusive” relations of Mary to the distinct persons of the Trinity he intends that word in a generic sense embracing both proper and appropriated relations. Mary is properly the Mother of the Son, not of the Father or of the Holy Spirit (21). Daughter of the Father, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Complement of the Trinity are appropriations, or if you will “quasi-propria,” consequent on the fact she is Mother of the Son and has entered into a relation of consanguinity with the other divine Persons. Proper relations are simply exclusive. But the appropriated relations in the case of Mary, while being inclusive, are in some sense also exclusive, because each reveals and so realizes a relation to one or another of the divine Persons distinctive of that person and found only in Mary Immaculate, qua Immaculate.

Because appropriated relation can be found also in those transubstantiated into her through her mediation, viz. totally consecrated to her qua Immaculate. Thus they can share in the work of mediation and redemption in the subjective order of application precisely as extensions of her maternal mediation, though none but she is properly Mother of God and of the Church.

Mary being uniquely a part of the Trinity qua Complement, exclusive consecration to Mary on the part of anyone else is eo ipso exclusive consecration to the Holy Spirit which includes exclusive consecration to the Son and to the Father (22). Real distinction from, yet in-existence or “consanguinity” re the divine Persons according to the distinctive personal property of each, for Mary make her, not a fourth person (mathematical, quantitative notion of term or complement), but the point where infinite, triune love meets and becomes one with perfect created love, point therefore of intersection and inner penetration of triune and salvific orders (23). We are dealing, not with a sum or unit by addition, but with a union of love, which without increasing the number of “divine” persons, nonetheless enlarges their circle of love to include all the children of Mary, all related to her by “consanguinity.”

2. Spouse of the Holy Spirit: Perfect Union-Communion of Love

The Kolbean use of the ancient name for the Holy Spirit, Complement, for Mary Immaculate establishes in fact, even if the Saint seemingly did not advert expressly to this, a link between his further reflection and what St. Bonaventure calls “symbolic” theology, what some today might call “positive” theology. More exactly, the point of contact is the formal character of the procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son, or as St. Maximilian also says from the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit qua person originating as term of a procession in his theological reflection is understood as the bond of unity, kiss of peace between Father and Son, not as distinct persons, but as persons remaining persons perfectly one in loving each other, the fluxus et refluxus of perfect charity and its participation in the redamantia of devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (24). That perfect unity hypostatically is the Holy Spirit, the Complement of the Trinity, viz., of Father and Son in the Unity, viz., of the Holy Spirit. The mission of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation, however varied its visible manifestation parallels this complementarity and achieves the same result as in the Trinity. To call Mary the Complement of the Trinity is to assign her in the economy of salvation (and so in “economic” theology) a central role which is also that of the Holy Spirit.

This union of Mary and the Holy Spirit the Saint calls a spousal union of love. For him it is the ontological basis for the divine Motherhood and her consanguinitas with the divine Persons (25). His use of the title Spouse of the Holy Spirit to pinpoint the essential in the title Complement of the Trinity depends on the famous Marian antiphon composed by St. Francis of Assisi for his Office of the Passion. Although it appears for the first time in his writings only in 1933, its appearance is so natural as make one suspect he had been pondering this title for many years previously.

A prefatory remark. Whereas the title Complement as used by St. Maximilian is expressly referred to the divine Maternity and the first moment of the Incarnation, that of Spouse and his use of it rests on a parallel reference to the virginal maternity of Mary at the moment of consummation of the Incarnate Word’s redemptive mission. The Immaculate Handmaid at Nazareth is the Immaculate Coredemptress on Calvary, is therefore the spiritual Mother and Mediatrix of all graces in the Church. We may conclude, contrary to the suggestions of some commentators: the mariological-pneumatological line of St. Maximilian is very much focused on the mystery of Marian coredemption, in perfect harmony with the classic exposition of St. Bonaventure, an exposition, however, as all christocentric franciscanism is, tributary to St. Francis himself. Whence the significance of the appearance of the title Spouse of the Holy Spirit in the initial Kolbean reflection at its beginning on Mary as “part” of the Trinity (26).

Not only, then, does Mary qua Immaculate or Complement of the Trinity enter the order of the hypostatic union and become Mother of God, she also is intimately associated with the redemptive mission of the Son, not only subjectively as Mediatrix of all graces, but objectively as Coredemptress, and therefore Mediatrix, a joint association effected by her singular relation or spousal union with the Holy Spirit, or her sharing in his sanctificatory or consecratory mission, first in the Incarnation, then on Calvary and then in the Church and in her members.

Her “consanguinity” or “parentage” with the divine Persons, a typically contemplative terminology, was given classic formulation by St. Francis of Assisi in the aforementioned Antiphon when he addresses the Immaculate Virgin as daughter and handmaid of the Most high King and Father, Mother of his Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Because of her espousals to the Holy Spirit (effectively, after Scotus in Franciscan mariology the Immaculate Conception), espousals consequent of her absolute joint predestination with her Son, the Virgin Mary effectively stands (by grace) in relation (consanguinity) to the Father as does (by nature) the Son who redeemed her preservatively: as Filia-Filius and as Ancilla-Servus (Coredemptress-Redeemer); and in relation (consanguinity) to the Son like the Father: Mater-Pater.

That St. Maximilian had the Antiphon in mind when using the title Spouse of the Holy Spirit is perfectly obvious, both from the article in Miles Immaculatae where he speaks of the coredemption expressly (27), from the conference in Rome in 1937 (28), and from notes made in conjunction with the project of a book on the Immaculate, where he expressly uses all the titles of the Antiphon, substituting for Daughter and Handmaid, Daughter and Instrument, viz., of our redemption and sanctification-salvation, because Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and so his property and possession, sharing in his mission of sanctification consequent on the redemptive mission of Jesus, Son of Mary and of the Father (29).

This mystery (for St. Maximilian key not only to mariology, but to our theology) connoted by the title Spouse of the Holy Spirit, is truly, but not adequately expressed by the analogy of spousal love (30). Without further effort to understand in dogmatic terms we shall not appreciate all the mysteries subsumed under the title Immaculate Conception. Thus, in order to facilitate such reflection, in accord with the dogmatic tradition of the Church, he suggests that this spousal union of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the fruit of the oneness of two really distinct wills qua wills, i.e., acting freely and voluntarily, may be considered a quasi-incarnation. In other words the mission of the Holy Spirit, because the consequence of the mission of the Son, is comparable to the Incarnation, but not the same as the mission of the Son. The mission of the Son terminates at the Incarnation, the virginal conception and birth of the Son of God as Son of Mary. The mission of the Holy Spirit terminates at the Immaculate Conception 1) to sanctify the virginal conception and virgin birth of Christ (31), and 2) to make possible and to effect the sanctification and incorporation of the members of Christ into the Body formed virginally in the womb of Mary (32), this last a mediatory process whose realization in Mary is called by St. Maximilian “transubstantiation” into the Holy Spirit (33)

To this end the Saint suggests a simple, yet convincing formula: the spousal union between the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate, whereby Mary is constituted Immaculate, is a oneness or communion of two persons and two natures remaining distinct ontologically, yet perfectly one in the order of love, such that each as person shares the same name. Because they are perfectly one — union being the formal character of voluntary action as distinct from natural, the Virgin is the similitude (Bonaventure) or icon (Maximilian) of the Holy Spirit, the name of the Virgin identifying or revealing to us the nature of the ineffable, viz., charity or goodness in itself (ipsum Bonum which St. Francis says is in the Virgin—cf. Salute to the Virgin) (34).

With this it is quite clear why he says the perfect love of the Trinity meets an adequate response (redamatio for St. Bonaventure) in the perfect love of the Immaculate, so serving as the point of departure for the return (recapitulation via recirculation) of all things to God, even of sinners who through her mediation can begin to reflect that “without spot and wrinkle” (Eph. 5:27) which Christ expects in His Church and its members, viz., to resemble His Mother, for her love is without restriction, without spot. Whereas to the degree our love does not resemble hers, it is spotted, soiled, wrinkled (35). Rebuilding the Church, the mission of St. Francis and his Order, rests on the mystery of the Immaculate Coredemptress (36). That is because the spousal love of the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate is unique, unique because defined as the Immaculate Conception. Only to the degree the Church and her members are “immaculatized,” viz., spiritualized (37), glorified, made similar to the Immaculate Coredemptress, do they become what Christ desires in them.

3. The Created-Uncreated Immaculate Conception (38)

The words and concepts which we employ, writes St. Maximilian, are never adequate expression of what they connote of the mysteries of faith. This is true not only of the Trinity and the Incarnation, but also in an especial way of the divine Maternity. What does it mean to be mother? What does it mean to be God? What does it mean to be Mother of God? To combine in a single phrase the most mysterious concept of the created order with the essential mystery of the uncreated (the one and triune God) is in a sense to confront oneself with the most startling mystery of “our theology” (39). That mystery is the mystery of spousal love, the real distinction of two persons in the unity of pure love, a mystery he tells us which issues in the Incarnation, and the visible, corporal manifestation of the mutual love of Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Is it possible to form a concept of spousal love?

In genuine Bonaventurian fashion, St. Maximilian goes on to tell us that those words and concepts afforded us by Scripture and Tradition and found in the Deposit of faith do exactly that and are most useful tools in the exercise of that intellectual asceticism, without which we are unprepared for that “surpassing knowledge of the charity of Christ” (Eph. 3:19). Put concisely such words and concepts are analogical or comparative. The comparison involves a relation of likeness and unlikeness between exemplar and exemplatum. That comparison at the heart of metaphysical exemplarism may be primarily intellectual (postulating therefore a divine illumination of the mind, both at the natural as well as supernatural levels); it is this which underlies the analogia entis, even when used in the order of revealed theology.

But for Bonaventure there is also an exemplarism of the affective order (postulating for Bonaventure a kind of divine inflammation of the will) which underlies the analogia fidei in “our theology” and which constitutes the ontological basis for the priority of contemplative over academic theology. The more intimately and completely understanding and love, theology and spirituality compenetrate one another, the more perfect each is. (40)

In St. Bonaventure’s terms the difference is that between the use of analogy or comparison of two different realities in relation to a common point of reference at the level of image and at the level of similitude of God. Exemplarism at the level of image is primarily intellectual with stress on points of identity in essentials qualified by proportionate difference in the reality of each; in the second at the level of similitude it is primarily affective with stress on the unity or oneness in love despite proportionate differences in person and essence. What has been little noted by commentators on the Kolbean materials for a book on the Immaculate Conception is his use, especially in the last dictation, of similitude or analogy in the strict Bonaventurian sense of affective analogy, viz., unity, as in the similitude of God, constituted by charity (41).

With this it is clear how Bonaventure’s insistence on the theory of divine illumination (the divine light as both illuminating and inflaming the created person) and its parallel formulations by Scotus in terms of univocity and acceptation is very much a corollary of their insistence on the priority of person as incommunicable existence within perfect unity: viz., communion qua persons both in respect to essence and in respect to operation, and why therefore personal causality, even in created persons, transcends any of the aristotelian categories of causality (42). In turn this provides the key to St. Maximilian’s point of departure in the use of “conception” pneumatologically.

When St. Maximilian discusses conception in God and in creatures as a fundamental aspect of the spiritual and supernatural order, he understands this to refer, not as it is commonly taken in neo-scholasticism, to the process of forming ideas in the intellect, but to the perfection of love. So proceeding, at the suggestion of Our Lady, he extends this to reflect on the procession and mission of the Holy Spirit. If Our Lady in virtue of her sinless conception is Spouse of the Holy Spirit and spouses share the same name, then the name of Mary being Immaculate Conception, so also the proper name of the Holy Spirit is Immaculate Conception (43). That name is the precise definition of spousal love, what St. Bonaventure means by supernatural similitude. The unique holiness of Mary is, then, the revelation of the person of the Holy Spirit, spousal Charity, and of his mission to sanctify, to consecrate.

This insight of St. Maximilian in terms of academic theology is certainly original, although once pointed out it obviously has a basis in what is commonly connoted by the title Complement of the Trinity and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Nonetheless, it is not entirely devoid of some precedent in medieval scholasticism, specifically St. Bonaventure who expressly relates the procession and mission of the Holy Spirit, not to conception as an idea, but to conception which is the fruit of spousal love. Conception of a person in humanis according to St. Bonaventure a parte rei reflects divine Love as formally distinct from divine Understanding. Hence, the love of spouses from which results a conception tells us something about the spiration of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son (or through Son) as distinct from the generation of the Son. Generation (and conception as a synonym for generation) pertains to the natural or intellectual; spiration to the affective or volitional. So it follows, according to the Seraphic Doctor, that the proper name of the Holy Spirit is Charity, just as Word is the proper name of the Son, when these terms are used, not essentially or notionally, but hypostatically. Thus for St. Bonaventure, the Son may be said to be “a conceived,” both eternally and temporally, but only the Holy Spirit may be said hypostatically to be a “conception,” and St. Maximilian would add a holy or pure or “immaculate” conception, terms which St. Bonaventure mentions in connection with another proper name of the third divine Person: Spirit (44).

St. Bonaventure also links the mission of the Holy Spirit, whose goal is the sanctification of those for whom Jesus laid down His life, with “conception” (45). Here his passing reflection is not very much developed, but it easily serves as a point of departure for the more detailed remarks of St. Maximilian. For St. Bonaventure the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is appropriated to the Holy Spirit, is said to be the first and central goal of his mission as distinct from that of the Incarnation itself, because the Holy Spirit by reason of his proper name is the unity (spousal love) of the Father and Son in loving each other and by reason of his appropriated name (from the divine attributes) which is their goodness. The Incarnation occurs via the virginal conception, because like every conception of a person in time it is the fruit of the spousal love of the Father and Son, of their unity and goodness (46). Thus if the Word is virginally conceived, it is by the power of the Spirit, viz., of Conception itself. This is the point made expressly by St. Maximilian: the Immaculate Conception, both Holy Spirit and Virgin, constitute the fruitful fecundity issuing in the Incarnation and Redemption. Jesus is conceived, but Mary is Conception, thus accounting at once for the association and distinction of Jesus and Mary in a single work of mediation and redemption. It is this single Name:

Immaculate Conception, which permits the theological understanding of both esse and operari of Spirit and Virgin, that is, of the purity and maternal mediation which denotes the starting point of the return to God the Father of all that came forth from Him through the Word (cf. Jn. 1:1, 16:28).

Immaculate Conception, then, is the point where exitus and reditus, reductio, creative action and created reaction, meet and mutually penetrate (47). Formally, that point is defined as charity: for all things come forth from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit-Immaculate Conception, and in the Holy Spirit-Immaculate Conception through the Word Incarnate return ad Patris congregantis unitatem (48). Thus the circle of trinitarian love in eternity is expanded so as to include the created order. When that occurs the very name of the Trinity is revealed: bonitas; and the nature of love, which excludes all sin, is made clear, not only essentially, but personally. It is the Holy Spirit or uncreated Immaculate Conception, fruit of the love of Father and Son from eternity; it is the Virgin Mother, fruit of the love of Father and Word Incarnate in time, because She also is Immaculate Conception, the vertex of love (49). Wonder of wonders, being the most perfect fruit of that creative-redemptive love, her obedient word makes possible the Incarnation of the Word and is one with Him in offering and being offered on Calvary and on the altars of the Church. This is why her word is the condition for incorporation of members into the Body of Christ, the Church; this is why her word directly and immediately impinges on the growth of that Body and on the sanctification and salvation of its members. This is why the spousal love of the Immaculate makes her a part of the Trinity, its complement, like the Holy Spirit, and why those whom she begets can also enjoy the life of the divine Persons.

The link with tradition via St. Bonaventure shows the insight of St. Maximilian bears on the objective content of the deposit of faith. Nonetheless his understanding goes considerably beyond the explicit meaning of St. Bonaventure. In many ways the synthesis sketched above all in SK (Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe) 1318 and in SK 1326 reminds one of the Franciscan thesis of the absolute primacy of Christ and the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary Immaculate formulated in Scotistic terms.

But even here he seems to have grasped and expressed something fully in accord with Scotus, yet a still further explication of this thesis when he speaks about all the love of heaven and all the love of creation meeting in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception (50). Such seems confirmed by this stupendous conclusion to the Trinitarian-Marian prayer (51) the Saint composed: “For you God created the entire world. For you God called me into existence. How did I merit such good fortune?” (cf. Lk. 1:43) Far from being a subordination of Christ to Mary in the order of final causality, this is a simple and profound affirmation of the Marian mode of Christ’s glory at its final consummation, for Scotus essentially charity: including Mary and through her mediation including us as well. So understood the glory of that charity is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception (52). Or given its ecclesial twist the mystery of the Immaculate Conception as the very personality of Mary and the ultimate in finite sanctity is the Marian personification of the charity at the very heart of the Church, the Virgo Ecclesia facta.

By way of summary: the heart of the supernatural order is formally charity rather than participation, and the key to that love is the presence of Mary, whether we are dealing with the Incarnation-Redemption, or whether we are dealing with our sanctification. Her unique presence and personal influence in extending the communion of the Trinity via the order of the hypostatic union rests on her unique relation with the Holy Spirit as Created Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner


(1) Cf. Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe (abbreviated SK) (Italian edition: Rome, 1997), 1286 (from 1937); SK 1308; SK 1317.

(2) SK 1313.

(3) SK 1311-1312.

(4) SK 1314.

(5) SK 1315-1317.

(6) SK 1318.

(7) SK 1319.

(8) For bibliography on orthopraxis cf P. Fehlner lo sono l’ Immacolata Concezione. Ad huc quaedam de metaphysica mariana…

(9) SK 634; 1318; CK (Ascetical Conferences: Konferencje ascetyczne. Notatki sluchaczy Ojca Maksymiliana Kolbego, Niepokalanow, 1976) April 9, 1938, p. 249; Nov. 26, 1938, p. 312; Sept. 21, 1940, pp. 395-396. Cf. Fehlner, Complementum Ss. Trinitatis….

(10) Domanski, La genesi... p. 262.

(11) Cf. Col. in Hex., c. 1, 12, where he seems to indicate complement as a synonym for term.

(12) Domanski, La genesi…, p. 260: according to the testimony of Br. L. Kuzba, librarian at Niepokalanow during the last years of St. Maximilian, the library possessed the entire patristic corpus available in Polish translation and these works were regularly pondered by St. Maximilian.

(13) On the Saint’s interest in and the possible influence of oriental theology on him cf. Domanski, La genesi…p. 261; and Skwarczynski, Lo Spirito Santo…, passim.

(14) Complementum Ss. Trinitatis... pp. 196-203.

(15) SK 1305.

(16) SK 1305; 1295.

(17) SK 1305.

(18) SK 1318. With this St. Maximilian draws out the Marian implications of Hesychius’ use of the title for the Holy Spirit in a sermon for the feast of the Annunciation, and so in a sense justifies his claim to a patristic basis for his own usage.

(19) CK November 26, 1938, p. 312.

(20) CK September 21, 1940, pp. 395-396.

(21) SK 1305. In St. Maximilian the maternal-filial relation between Mary and Jesus echoes the view of Bl. John Duns Scotus. Cf. S. Ragazzini, OFMConv., La Divina Maternita, pp. 100-122.

(22) Cf. SK 634; 643, for examples of practical solutions of spiritual difficulties based on just this.

(23) Cf. SK 1326.

(24) SK 1318: all the love of the Trinity and all the love of creation meet in the Immaculate, vertex of love. St. Bonaventure, Lignum Vitae; Vitis Mystica (which some consider dubiously Bonaventurian, but whose doctrine surely reflects the mind of the Seraphic Doctor); cf. also St. Maximilian, SK 987 G; 1284; 1310; 1325; 1326 where this underlying principle is reflected in one way or another. Cf. Domanski, La Genesi… p. 257. Action-reaction, fluxus-refluxus amoris, Amantem redama, amor non amatus in the Saint of Auschwitz recall the Bonaventurian exitus-reditus from and to the Father underlying the trinitarian structure of all creation and the economy of salvation, perfectly realized in and through the Immaculate and Jesus, the first our Mediatrix with Jesus, and the second our Mediator with the Father.

(25) It is also the kolbean basis for the virginal marriage of Mary with St. Joseph. The title Spouse of the Holy Spirit does not and cannot mean wife of the Holy Spirit. Thus may be rebutted the frequently voiced objection to this title, viz., that it implies the Holy Spirit is the husband of Mary and father of Jesus.

(26) SK 508.

(27) SK 1229.

(28) Di Lillo, Incontri… p. 32.

(29) SK 1318; 1320.

(30) SK 1310; 1318. Cf. Schneider, “Virgo Ecclesia Facta”… pp. 205-213.

(31) SK 1318; 1165; 1224; 1284; 1310.

(32) SK 1284; 1229; 1295.

(33) CK Nov. 26, 1938, p. 312.

(34) Latin-Italian text in K. Esser, Gli Scritti di S. Francesco d’Assisi. (Padova 1995).

(35) SK 1288; 1326.

(36) Cf. Schneider, “Virgo Ecclesia Facta”… for a profound synthesis of the ecclesial vision of St. Francis based on the words of Christ to him from the crucifix in San Damiano, Assisi.

(37) Cf. the use of such terms in the Quam oblationem…of the Roman Canon of the Mass where acceptable host is a “spiritual” (Latin rationale) one, viz., pure, like the one formed by Mary in her immaculate womb, and so capable of glorification (cf. 1 Cor. 15).

(38) What follows is a commentary on SK 1318, unless otherwise noted.

(39) SK 1305.

(40) Cf. M. Oromi, OFM, Filosofia ejemplarista de San Buenaventura, in Obras de San Buenaventura (Madrid 1957) vol. 3, pp. 3-136 for an overall view of bonaventurian exemplarism, and moral (affective) exemplarism in particular, pp. 126-134, a presentation, however, to be complemented by St. Bonaventure’s teaching on contemplation and theory of light. This explains why the theology of the “ordinary” or academic theologian qua talis is relatively superficial and limited in contrast with that of the contemplative, such as St. Francis or St. Maximilian, is said to “fly” rather than “crawl” and why the translations of their understanding into “academic” terminology is so valuable. Cf. Schneider, “Virgo Ecclesia Facto”…, pp. 40-50.

(41) On the strictly personal dimensions and their bearing on the nature of Marian mediation cf. Fehlner, De metaphysica mariana quaedam, in Immaculata Mediatrix 1, no 2 (2001) pp. 13-42.

(42) Cf. Fehlner, De Metaphysica Mariana Quaedam…, 17-25.

(43) SK 1319.

(44) I Sent. d 10, a 2, q 1.

(45) III Sent. d 4, a 1, q 1.

(46) Cf. Ibid.

(47) SK 1318.

(48) St. Bonaventure, Col. in Hex., c. 1, 17. SK 1318, with its practical application in SK 1318, is in this context a perfect concretization of St. Bonaventure’s reflection on the communion of charity and its trinitarian character in Breviloquium p. 5, c. 8, 5. Cf. also SK 1205, 1320, 1325, 1326: perfect charity excludes any taint of sin.

(49) SK 1310.

(50) SK 1326, the plan of salvation in scotistic terms, whose key is expounded in SK 1318, the mystery of the created and uncreated Immaculate Conception.

(51) SK 1305.

(52) Cf. J. Swiecicki, Prospettive mahologiche del Beato Massimiliano Kolbe, in Miles Immaculatae 15 (1979) 318 ss.; Domanski, La Genesi…, p. 263; A. Amato, Maria nell’itinerario spirituale…, pp. 811-812, in admiration. In dissent Calabuig, Riflessioni conclusive… pp. 1039-1040 sees this vision and the text of SK 1305 as a form of gross maximalism (and therefore Scotus as one of the greatest of Marian maximalists?), without basis in Scripture. Yet the very biblical texts C. cites to prove only Christ, without Mary, is to be so understood, are the very ones cited for centuries in the Scotistic tradition to prove the joint predestination of Christ and Mary and some of which, e.g., Eph. 1:3-13, are also cited by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater as Marian in meaning in relation to this very mystery. The thought of St. Maximilian in SK 1305 can be found in St. Bernardine of Siena (15th cent.): Sermo VIII: De superadmirabili gratia et gloria Matris Dei, in Opera Omnia(Quaracchi 1950-1965) vol. II, p. 373.

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Adrian Johnson
Adrian Johnson
14 août 2020

This is cutting-edge developmental theology. 

 I had read many years ago that St Maximilian Kolbe had received special inspiration about the Immaculate Conception and her relationship to the Holy Spirit; and that this development of theology was for the maturing of the Church’s understanding in “the last days”. But much of his writing was untranslated from Polish and would take a long time to translate and to have both the original Polish AND the translations be approved by Rome.  

His key insight was that the Holy Spirit and His action post-Pentecost could only be understood though Mariology, BECAUSE  the Blessed Virgin Mother was (metaphorically speaking) the “Objective Correlative”  or “sacrament” of the Holy Spirit acting on the…

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