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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.”