The Franciscan Mariological School and the Coredemptive Movement



Many years ago, during a casual conversation, Fr. Juniper Carol, founder of this Society (the Mariological Society of America), mentioned to me the three crusades, during the half century between 1927 and 1977, of Fr. Charles Balic, the indefatigable promoter of Mary Immaculate and of the subtle Marian Doctor, Bl. John Duns Scotus. These crusades were 1) the anti-debitist, linked to the promotion of the Immaculate Conception in the speculative realm, 2) the coredemptive and 3) the assumptionist (1).


The first, although now attracting little attention from theologians, surely deserves more, since its objective is to counter tendencies, still very much alive in the Church and among various groups of theologians, to minimize the essential difference between preservative and liberative redemption, and so the crucial practical import of the dogma. St. Maximilian Kolbe has given that crusade for the Immaculate another form: not theological, but rather spiritual-pastoral. He gave this the name of incorporation of the dogma into the life of the Church as basis of renewal. The last-mentioned crusade, that concerning the Assumption, so closely related in the life and death of St. Francis to the Portiuncula or St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, and expounded with such exceptional depth by St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus, had a glorious conclusion in 1950, with the dogmatic definition by Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus. This definition exerted not a little influence on the Marian doctrine of Vatican II and its ecclesial significance.


The middle crusade, assigned to Fr. Juniper, among the friars known as "Secretary of the Co-redemptrix" as well as Secretary of this Society, is still very much a significant part of the current coredemptive movement, seeking a dogmatic definition of that mystery which historically links the divine maternity to Mary’s Assumption, efficacious mediation of all grace to men and angels in the Church, and intercession for them before the throne of mercy. The link here with St. Francis is perfectly clear from his conversion and call to religious life: to be perfectly conformed to Christ Crucified by sharing the compassion of the sorrowful Mother. Coredemption is but another title for the central place of that Mother in the spirituality of Francis, Bonaventure, James of Milan, Jacopone da Todi, to mention only a few of the giants of

the first Franciscan century (2).


Fr. Balic did not invent these crusades. Like all Franciscan Mariologists, he inherited them from St. Francis, a Marian saint if ever there was one, and the founder of a radically Marian orientated Order (3). The distinctive feature of that orientation, from the Order’s founding in 1209, has always been the Immaculate Conception, under that name or some equivalent, such as Spouse of the Holy Spirit, because this mystery constitutes the heart of the Founder’s mission "to rebuild the Church" (4).


This radically Marian-orientated Order early on produced a school of theology well known for its consistently Marian character, with special emphasis on the Immaculate Conception and Marian mediation: "Mary is our Mediatrix with Christ as Christ is our Mediator with the Father," is how Henry of Avranches summed up Franciscan spirituality c. 1240 (5), and in almost the same words St. Bonaventure summed up the core of Franciscan Mariology a generation later (6). A more recent Scotistic Mariologist, Fr. Ruggero Rosini, thus summarized the doctrinal basis of this mediation as it appears in the writings of Duns Scotus: Christ is the greatest work of the Father, as Mary is the greatest work of Christ the Savior and Head of the Church (7).


When I say: Franciscan Mariology, I do not particularly refer to Mariology in the form of a treatise. Rather I have in mind what St. Bonaventure meant in answer to the question: why do we find so little on Mary in Scripture? His reply: Mary is in Scripture, and so in theology, because for St. Bonaventure theology is first of all the study of the Sacred Page, not in the form of a treatise, but in that far profounder and more fundamental fashion which underlies every theological tract. Because Mary is present in every verse of Scripture, shaping as it were from within as a revelation of her Son and our Head, she is present throughout all of theology (8). Precisely for this reason the Franciscan Mariological school, from its very start, provided the potential for such a treatise, synthesizing our knowledge of Mary, both as to content and form, in itself and in relation to every other theological treatise. Thus it shows why and how "our theology" (9) is a Marianized theology: because its origin passes at every point through Mary, first witness to faith (10). This is particularly evident in two giants of the first generation of Franciscan theologians: St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus.


First I would like to sketch the major features of this school, effectively the same for more than seven centuries, as they find their source in St. Francis himself, and in the two giants just mentioned. In a second section I will point out just how the coredemptive question (contrary to many misconceptions of the Franciscan thesis on the absolute primacy of Jesus and Mary as a choice between the Incarnation as willed independently of the redemption, or the Incarnation as occasioned by the fall of Adam and Eve) was present in a prominent way from the beginnings of Franciscan Mariological thought. For the perfection and centrality of the Cross of Christ in Franciscan spirituality, viz., the redemption, and with it the coredemption, so great that that redemption could not be greater in any possibly better world, depends on the fact of the Incarnation and Immaculate Conception being willed prior to any consideration of sin: not as a possible hypothesis, but as a revealed truth about what God in fact actually willed: quod fecit quia decuit Matri Dei.


Part I – The Franciscan Mariological School


1. St. Francis of Assisi: Mater Dei, Virgo Ecclesia facta, Sponsa Spiritus Sancti


When we hear the phrase "Mariological School," we think of one or another of the academic features characteristic of an organized, cohesive study of the mystery of Mary in revelation promoted by a group of theologians over a period of time. Here I have in mind something prior to the emergence of a school of thought in the narrow sense: a deliberate, conscious approach to the praise and service of Mary, resting on a doctrinal basis that eventually will give rise to a distinctive school in the narrower sense. The first we see in St. Francis, inspiring the Marian teaching of Bonaventure; the second is already beginning to emerge in the unfinished work of the subtle Doctor, for this reason also known as the Marian Doctor.


According to both Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure (11), St. Francis could not exalt Mary in praise or serve her too much, because it was she who brought our Lord and Savior into our midst and made possible for us direct access to Him. De Maria numquam satis (12). St. Francis is clearly a Marian maximalist, a position clearly bearing on his way of thinking about Mary. If we understand who Mary is, what she has done and continues to do, then we can never exalt her too much, because we cannot come close to matching, let alone exceeding, what the Blessed Trinity has done for her. Of course St. Bonaventure warns against attempting to maximize our Marian prayer and doctrine with stupidities which in fact do not exalt but demean the Virgin Mother of God. But the more we grasp of the mystery objectively, e.g., the Immaculate Conception, the greater must be our praise, devotion and service objectively. For St. Francis, just as the absolute primacy of Christ appears after the triumph of the Cross as Christ’s Kingship over all creation, so the mystery of the Spouse of the Holy Spirit or Immaculate Conception appears as the Queenship of Mary gloriously crowned as Mistress of heaven and earth. In the practical order this constitutes the doctrinal foundation for her universal mediation of grace in the Church and among the Angels, the indispensable basis for realizing the purpose of the Franciscan Order, the rebuilding of the Church: to be without stain or spot, viz., immaculate (13).


These themes converge on the sacrifice of Calvary, hence the importance of perfect conformity to the Crucified through the maternal mediation of Mary in order to accomplish the glorification of the Church. This consists precisely in the completion of the Body of Christ, formed by Mary, so that in and through Christ the Father sees in us what he sees in his Only-begotten Son. This entails on the part of Mary a dual relation: one to Christ as His Mother and so on Calvary Mother of the Church (Virgo Ecclesia facta) and to the Holy Spirit as his instrument in realizing the Incarnation and animating the Church as Body of Christ. Once we see this, we see why Mary is first born daughter of the Father, and how St. Francis’ Marian thought rests profoundly on Trinitarian insights, which underlie the Franciscan thesis on the absolute predestination of Christ and Mary. This Marianized Christology (in St. Maximilian M. Kolbe) will ultimately yield a key to a pneumatology-ecclesiology in the mystery of Mary’s person as Virgin Mother: in relation to the Holy Spirit and in relation to the Church as Virgin-Mother of the faithful (14).


Careful examination of the St. Francis’ Salute to the Virgin (15), whence comes the title Virgo Ecclesia facta, and whose composition is to be related not only to the Portiuncula, St. Mary of the Angels, effectively celebrating Mary’s Assumption and mediation of all graces in the Church, but also to Francis’ conversion experience under the tutelage of the Immaculate Co-redemptrix, particularly reveals how it stresses the joint centrality of the divine Maternity and Incarnation. Thus it reveals how thoroughly the Marian thought of St. Francis was permeated precisely by those three notes stressed by Paul VI in Marialis cultus: the Trinitarian, Christological-pneumatological, and ecclesial (16).


Similarly, the antiphon for the Office of the Passion (17), whence comes the title Sponsa Spiritus Sancti, or Immaculate Conception, whose composition was profoundly linked to the Poverello’s conversation with the Crucified in San Damiano, the moment when Francis was stigmatized interiorly, reveals the same. This time, however, it does so in relation to the consummation of Christ’s mission on the Cross. The mystery of what is today called the coredemption, based on the "Franciscan thesis," stands at the very center of this Office and unique antiphon. The identification and labeling of this mystery will be a contribution of the Franciscan Mariological school.


Two doctrinal themes, anchored in the conversion experience of the Poverello in the Church of San Damiano as well demonstrated by Fr. Schneider (18): themes to become central to the Franciscan Mariological School, emerge from this unlimited devotion to Mary as Mother of God: a sense of her unique mediation, first as an active co-cause of the Incarnation and then as spiritual Mother of the Church and its members; and then, as a consequence, a sense of her person as one capable of being the Mother of God and our Mother. For she is Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin made Church, who is able to bring into this world the Son of God and Savior by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and by the operation of the same Spirit make of the Church virginal Mother of Christ in the minds and hearts of the faithful. Thus, in chapter 10 of his Regula bullata, St. Francis insists that all the friars are obliged to have in themselves "the Spirit of the Lord and his holy operation," no where so fully realized as in the Mother of God and our Mother.


This sense of Marian mediation of all grace will be a prominent feature of the Christology and Mariology of St. Bonaventure. This sense of her person in St. Francis will later emerge in Duns Scotus’ formulation of the theology of the Immaculate Conception, metaphysical ground of Mary’s universal mediation, as the Incarnation is the ground of Christ’s.


We are not dealing here with two partial aspects of a single mediation, but with a single mediation entire in Christ, but with a Marian mode, for the same reason the mission of the Son involves the mission of the Spirit and divine Maternity. Or mediation in the supernatural order entails a divine and maternal aspect, prefigured in the formation of man as male and female (Gen 2: 18-25) (19): in Bonaventure a dual dimension to a single mediation consummated on Calvary, but ultimately grounded in the dual complementary missions of Word and Spirit (20); and in Scotus founded respectively in the Incarnation and Immaculate Conception. This noted, it is easy to see how the profound insight of St. Maximilian ascribing the same name to the Spirit and Mary (21) is a kind of synthesis of these two great Marian Doctors.


In the Franciscan school, and first of all in St. Francis himself, Christ and Mary are involved, apart from any consideration of sin, in a work of mediation for the rest of the elect. Although from the gnoseological point of view of our theology here and now, demonstration of the Immaculate Conception rests on the prior recognition of our redemption as perfect, ontologically a parte rei the perfection of that redemption derives in fact from the mediation of Christ and Mary: real, even had Adam not sinned (22).


Evidently, the Marian thought of St. Francis, like his profound theology in general, fountainhead of the famed Franciscan school of theology and philosophy (and some would add science), when described in terms of the three possible modes of "our theology" in a time of pilgrimage (23) , is contemplative. For St. Bonaventure, without this form of theology, it would be impossible to perfect or develop the other two, viz., symbolic and academic (or proper). On the other hand without a sound symbolic and academic presentation it would be impossible for the vast majority to grasp the mind of St. Francis and similar saints on the mysteries of faith.


2. St. Bonaventure and the Maternal Mediation of Mary


St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus are hardly the only representatives of Franciscan Marian thought during the "golden age" of Franciscan theology. When the Marian doctrine of the Evangelical Doctor, St. Anthony, of Conrad of Saxony, James of Milan, Peter of John Olivi, John Peckham, Servussanctus of Faenza, Jacopone da Todi, to mention just a few, is taken into consideration and the range of themes treated, sometimes in the form of sermons, popular and theological, sometimes in the form of monographs, sometimes in the form of liturgical and hymnal texts, then one can understand how from all these riches a Mariological school in the proper sense might arise under guidance of a contemplative genius (24). In Scotus that thought begins to reveal its basic structure and formal character as a theological treatise.


The first of the two theological giants is the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure. He touched on almost every possible Marian theme, with insights profoundly traditional, yet going far beyond any to be found in most of his contemporaries, or immediate predecessors or disciples (25). Curiously the only theme tending to unify all this reflection is that of Marian mediation, where mediation embraces not only her role in our saving encounter with Christ, but His coming into this world (26). From this perspective Mary is seen both as gate to earth for God and as gate to heaven for those saved by Christ.


In this St. Bonaventure is faithful to his concept of our theology as practical: theologia est speculationis gratia, ut boni fiamus et principaliter ut boni fiamus (27). It is the key role of Mary as Mediatrix throughout the e