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.