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.