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The Immaculate Conception in the Thought of Adrienne von Speyr

Updated: May 29, 2020

The following article, written by Fr. Donald Calloway, a member of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, “seeks to present the Immaculate Conception in the thought of one of the most understudied mystics and Marian figures of the twentieth century, Adrienne von Speyr.” Fr. Calloway, MIC, is the author of several Mariological articles and editor of The Virgin Mary and Theology of the Body, Marian Press, 2005.

On December 8, 1955, Pope Pius XII made the following statement in an allocution to the Catholic Relief Services: “In honoring Mary, in every thought of her, We do homage to the superabundant mercy and love of the Redeemer of men, all of whom He wishes to draw into union with Himself through grace and His Holy Spirit.” (1) Pius XII could not have chosen a better day than the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception to mention the superabundant mercy and love of God; the Immaculate Conception is, indeed, the masterpiece of God’s superabundant mercy and love.

Yet, as we celebrate the anniversary of that blessed day, December 8, 1854, when Blessed Pope Pius IX, overcome with such emotion that he burst into tears, (2) dogmatically declared that the Holy Mother of God had been conceived without original sin—thus declaring her to be The Immaculate Conception (Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus)—we still have to ask ourselves whether or not we have taken full advantage of all the insights given to the Church over these last one hundred and fifty years concerning this unique mystery of God’s superabundant mercy and love, The Immaculate Conception.

Historically, after the dogmatic declaration, the second half of the nineteenth century offered relatively few new insights into the mystery of the Immaculate Conception; even such original thinkers as Matthias Joseph Scheeben (1835-1888) and John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) had only minimal new theological insights. As a matter of fact, most of the studies on the Immaculate Conception being done at that time were of an historical nature, offering very little by way of new theological insights. While the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1904 brought about a renewed interest in the topic—Pope St. Pius X even wrote an encyclical letter to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the dogma (Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, February 2, 1904)—nevertheless, it would not be until the end of the second decade of the twentieth century that individuals in the Church would begin to advance new theological insights concerning this truth about Our Lady.

Undeniably, one of the most prominent and original thinkers on the Immaculate Conception during the early twentieth century was St. Maximilian Kolbe. His various writings on the Immaculate Conception were far ahead of his time and are, even today, considered to be some of the most provocative statements in Mariology (3). As the century progressed on, it witnessed the promulgation of an encyclical by Pope Pius XII that initiated a Marian year to commemorate the centenary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Fulgens Corona, September 8, 1953). Once again this action by a supreme pontiff, similar to that of St. Pius X in 1904, served as a catalyst for renewed interest in Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception; this is historically evidenced by the in-depth theological studies on the Immaculate Conception undertaken by the International Marian Academy in Rome from October 24 to November 1, 1954. The lasting fruit of this Congress was a ten-volume work by some of the most prominent scholars of the day. (4) It is truly an essential and invaluable resource for anyone interested in studying the Immaculate Conception. (5) Furthermore, shortly after this monumental event, such erudite figures as Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., (6) Fr. Urban Mullaney, O.P., (7) Fr. Juniper Carol, O.F.M., (8) and Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar (9) offered stunning theological insights into this mystery.

In our own day, Pope John Paul II, a great Marian Pope, has expressed a desire for there to be renewed efforts in studies done on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, with the explicit intention of “investigating new sources . . . to draw from them further starting points for theological research.” (10) Regarding this desire, the Pope notes:

A suitable opportunity to intensify this commitment (to Marian studies) will be the 150th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The two Pontifical Marian Academies, each in its own sphere of activity and with its own competence, are called to make their contribution so that the observance may be an opportunity to renew the theological, cultural and spiritual endeavor to communicate to the men and women of our time the meaning and the genuine message of this truth of faith (The Immaculate Conception). (11)

Therefore, ardently desiring to respond to the call of the Holy Father that there be investigations into “new sources” for Marian research, (12) the following article seeks to present the Immaculate Conception in the thought of one of the most understudied mystics and Marian figures of the twentieth century, Adrienne von Speyr.

Adrienne von Speyr: Life and Charism

In 1968, one year after the death of Adrienne von Speyr, Hans Urs von Balthasar noted that even though Adrienne had dictated well over sixty volumes of work and successfully published thirty-seven books, no one up to that point had taken “serious notice of her writings. No newspaper except Lucerne’s Vaterland deemed her worthy of even a brief obituary notice.” (13) Sadly, though thirty-six years have gone by, the situation has only slightly improved. (14) This seems almost impossible to believe in light of her gargantuan spiritual and theological achievements, profound mystical experiences, partnership in co-founding a secular institute, and overall influence on one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, Hans Urs von Balthasar. To this day, her insights into various theological fields remain relatively unknown among theologians, scholars and laity alike. (15) Thus, who is this mysterious figure that the modern world seems to have forgotten?

Adrienne was born in Switzerland on September 20, 1902 to Theodor and Laure von Speyr. Born into a Protestant (thought not very devout) family, her father was of German-Swiss descent and was an ophthalmologist; Adrienne’s mother, Laure, was of French-Swiss descent and was a housewife. Adrienne was the second child, having an older sister, Helen, and two younger brothers, Wilhelm and Theodor. The family was of good standing in the community and had a long history of well-respected occupations: bell makers, physicians, clergyman (Protestant), and businessmen.

As a young girl Adrienne exhibited an uncanny and perspicacious ability for learning; for example, she could read and write before she formally entered school. Her youth was like any other girls’ youth—playing with dolls, visiting grandparents, and taking time for tea parties. Yet, she never quite got along with her mother. Her mother was harsh, cruel and cold. Most of what she learned about religion came from her grandmother and from occasional Sunday school classes she attended. Interestingly, she always seemed dissatisfied with the doctrine of Protestantism, even expressing to a local minister the opinion that clergymen should be celibate; she even found the public-style of confession practiced by the Salvation Army quite distasteful and in need of being done privately, that is, one-on-one. Remarkably, despite that fact that her environment was often times quite anti-Catholic, she seems to have been predisposed by grace for a truly Catholic understanding of Christianity. As a matter of fact, when she was six years old she had an encounter with a mysterious man that later in life she would identify as St. Ignatius of Loyola, (16) and at the age of nine she gave a type of “lecture” to her fellow classmates concerning the Jesuits and their notion of reservatio mentalis. (17)

All throughout her youth and adult life Adrienne suffered from various types of physical difficulties: spondylitis, appendicitis, diabetes, tuberculosis in both lungs, arthritis, partial blindness, a heart attack and cancer. Yet, perhaps the “wound” that was the most intriguing was the one that she received when she was fifteen years old. In November of 1917—while still a Protestant—she allegedly had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels. (18) This experience left her with a mystical wound under her left breast for the rest of her life, the meaning of which would only become apparent when she met Hans Urs von Balthasar. This Marian experience would truly prove to be the beginning of a wonderful intimacy with the Virgin Mary that Adrienne would only fully come to know once she became Catholic. For the time being she experienced a type of “faraway tenderness for the Holy Virgin.” (19)

Due to her aptitude for learning Adrienne decided to pursue medical school. Though her family was quite opposed to this decision—female doctors were practically unheard of in Switzerland in those days—she eventually achieved her goal and became one of the first female doctors in all of Switzerland. In 1927 she met the widower Emil Dürr, a history professor at the University of Basel. Emil and Adrienne were soon married and living a happy life in their respective careers; Adrienne also became the stepmother of Emil’s two young boys. Unfortunately, Adrienne soon found herself a widow when in 1934 Emil died in an accident. She was left to care for the two boys, continuing in her occupation as a doctor.

In 1936 Adrienne married Werner Kaegi, the assistant of her late husband Emil. This was a happy marriage; however, as a result of her first husband’s death, she struggled with the ability to fully pray the Our Father, especially the words “Thy will be done.” Over the years she had made numerous efforts to try and speak to a Catholic priest but none of these attempts were ever successful. It was at this point—shortly after having suffered a heart attack in 1940—that she met one of the most learned men of the twentieth century, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar.

At the time of their meeting in the fall of 1940, von Balthasar was a Jesuit priest serving as the student chaplain at the University of Basel. This encounter would serve as the beginning of a friendship that would last twenty-seven years and prove to be, as the learned Marianist Fr. Johann Roten phrased it: “a psychological and theological symbiosis.” (20) After her death, von Balthasar himself adamantly insisted that her work was more important than his, (21) stating that after their meeting in 1940 their work “can never be neatly separated” (22) due to the fact that their common work comprises “two halves of a single whole, which has as its center a unique foundation.” (23) Thus, after 1940, it is truly pointless to try and disentangle their work. (24) Yet even in the light of such clear and unambiguous statements from von Balthasar there are some renowned scholars that still continue to be perplexed over Adrienne’s necessary place in von Balthasar’s theological project. (25) Some miss the point altogether. (26)

As divine providence would have it, it was shortly after her meeting with von Balthasar that Adrienne became a Catholic on the feast of All Saints, November 1, 1940. After her conversion, she continued to work as a doctor, seeing some sixty to eighty patients a day. (27) It was not long after her conversion, however, that she began to experience ecstatic flights, stigmatization, bilocation, vicarious suffering, and the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week. She began to go into ecstatic states where she would dictate (28) voluminously about such things as the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints, and a plethora of other theological topics. Perhaps the most impressive of her dictations were those that are considered commentaries and/or meditations on sacred scripture. These biblical commentaries are simply stunning in their insights into the mystery of God’s Word. Von Balthasar, for his part, played a very important role in all of these happenings.

After leaving the Jesuits—he left of his own free will, yet under the guidance of von Speyr—von Balthasar lived in the Kaegi household in order to do his theological writings and be available for the dictations. Together they founded a secular institute, the Community of St. John (Johannesgemeinschaft), which was dedicated to living a consecrated way of life while living in the world. Their common mission and spirituality would truly be monumental and unlike anything of its kind in twentieth century thought. (29) As it turns out, the wound Adrienne received in the vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917 served as a source of vicarious suffering and spiritual fruitfulness in her common task and mission with von Balthasar.

Adrienne suffered heroically during the last years of her life. She began to go blind around 1965, and was only able to sleep for two or three hours a night due to nocturnal ecstatic flights. On September 17, 1967, at the age of sixty-four, Adrienne died. Her final words were addressed to von Balthasar, her long time friend and spiritual director. She simply stated: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” (30)

Undeniably, Adrienne’s ecclesial charism and mission have not been fully appreciated and understood. She remains a woman wrapped in mystery. Many do not desire to take her work seriously on a theological level because of the “private revelation” dimension of her life and work. (31) This is most unfortunate; anyone who reads her work cannot help but be inspirited by her theological insights and orthodoxy. (32) Regardless of the fact that she was a woman who experienced all kinds of “private revelations” and mystical experiences, if her orthodoxy were in question would Pope John Paul II in 1983 have requested that an International Colloquium take place to study her thought? (33) The Holy Father, in an audience with the one hundred and fifty participants of this colloquium, gave them his blessing in the following words: “With all my heart I invoke abundant divine graces for the organizers of this Colloquium and upon all of its participants.” (34)

Adrienne’s Marian Thought

In light of all the above it only seems natural that when dealing with such a profound mystic as Adrienne von Speyr that the Blessed Virgin Mary occupy a central, necessary place in her overall thought and spirituality; for it is impossible to be an authentic Christian mystic without having a Marian modality in one’s relationship with the Trinity. The fact that Mary is at the core of Adrienne’s thought is clearly evidenced when one reads her works; (35) there is hardly a work in which the Blessed Virgin Mary is not mentioned, and most of these contain substantial treatments of various themes dealing with the Holy Virgin. Yet, as is the case with most of Adrienne’s work, her profound Mariological thought has gone relatively unnoticed—the exception being the theological project of Hans Urs von Balthasar. (36)

It is worth noting that the only book in which Adrienne completely planned and saw to completion on her own was a book on Mary: Handmaid of the Lord. (37) This work was written in 1946 and published in 1948 as Magd des Herrn. Von Balthasar, besides being her spiritual director and noting that she possessed an “almost incomprehensible familiarity with the Mother of the Lord” (38) also noted that when seeking to do a systematic reading of Adrienne’s works the book, Handmaid of the Lord, should be read first. (39) This is due to the fact that Mary’s fiat is at the core of Adrienne’s spirituality and thought; any attempt at trying to understand Adrienne outside of a Marian modality will, in the end, prove to be a fruitless endeavor. (40)

The fact that Adrienne underscores Mary’s fundamental stance in relation to God as handmaid—though this in no way implies that she intended this relation to serve as a fundamental Mariological principle—serves to underscore her understanding that all of Mary’s various relations to God (mother, bride, daughter, etc…), and all of her prerogatives and privileges (Immaculate Conception, Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Assumption, Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, Queenship, etc …), manifest the reality that Mary, as she herself states in the Magnificat (Lk.1:38), is and does all things as ancilla Domini. It is this notion, Mary as handmaid, which serves as the staring point of Adrienne’s theological project; this does not, however, rule out or exclude other fundamental approaches in the Marian thought of Adrienne; for example, Adrienne always presents Mary, whether in person or in mission, as a nuptial person—in this sense Mary is always the nuptial handmaid.

Thus, mindful that we are dealing with one of the most profound and understudied “Marian” mystics of the twentieth century, it only seems appropriate as we celebrate the anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to present and expose Adrienne’s thought on this singular privilege of Our Lady. In doing this, however, it must be remembered that Adrienne was not a systematic thinker in Marian studies; her thoughts on this topic are not, therefore, collected in one systematic essay or book. Neither are her various statements to be interpreted against a strictly scientific theological backdrop; Adrienne was not an academic theologian, and her works should not be read as though she were. On the contrary, because she was a mystic her expressions flow from the heart and were never intended to be placed in the same category as, for example, a strictly academic work in Mariology; this must be kept in mind throughout the duration of this article. Nevertheless, this work seeks to present her thoughts on this topic by employing a thematic approach that can be gleaned from her various writings on the Virgin Mary. From these writings I believe there are three specific areas where Adrienne has something to say concerning the Immaculate Conception: 1) Trinitarian Dimensions 2) Mission 3) Co-Redemptrix.

1) The Immaculate Conception: Trinitarian Dimensions

The Trinity is at the heart of all of Adrienne’s theological expositions. Whether she is commenting on the mission of the prophets, confession, the mystery of death, or some other theological topic, there is always a Trinitarian dimension involved. This also proves to be the case with the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.

a) The Father and the Immaculate Conception

In most of the writings on the Immaculate Conception in past centuries it was often the case that the only persons of the Trinity mentioned in conjunction with this great mystery were the Son and the Holy Spirit. Adrienne, on the other hand, emphatically holds the Immaculate Conception to be a “matter of the triune God.” (41) Of course, past centuries would not have denied this dimension; (42) yet, it cannot be denied that God the Father seems to have been somewhat neglected in many theologians’ treatment of this subject. Most likely this “neglect” was due to the theologians’ desire to focus on the redemption wrought by the Son, and the sanctification achieved by the Holy Spirit—attempting to understand the sinlessness of Mary while trying to safeguard the divine prerogatives—without doing theological harm to either. It is easy to see, therefore, how the Father could be overlooked. One century after the dogmatic definition, the integrity of the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit having been safeguarded, Adrienne has put the Father at the forefront of the mystery.

Adrienne gets to the heart of the Father’s relation to the Immaculate Conception when she states that “in order to facilitate the Son’s work, the Father redeems the Mother of God in advance, so that she might be capable of giving birth to the infant Redeemer.” (43) This reveals that even though redemption is achieved by the Son, there also exists a redeeming role for the Father; the Father is not left out of the role of either redemption or sanctification. On the contrary, it is the Father who is the origin of both, though each person of the Trinity participates in a way proper to His person. To clarify this, Adrienne will state the following:

The Father gives the redemption of the world to the Son, and the Son accomplishes it. Both are one in their will to redeem, but not in a simple identity of will, insofar as the Son has a human will and suffers. It is therefore possible to make something of a distinction. (44)

Adrienne will affirm—as do all orthodox Christians—that “Mary is planned and created both from and for the Cross.” (45) There would be no Immaculate Conception without the Cross of Jesus Christ. Yet, due to the fact that the work of redemption originates in the Father, she will also state that “the hour of the Cross is the hour of the Father.” (46) What this means is that the Father is not un-prepared for the reality that will happen to His eternal Son on the Cross.

On the contrary, because of His fatherly providence in sending His Son to accomplish the redemption of the world, the Father makes preparations for the Son, even offering to the Son, as gift, the perfect fruit of His (the Son’s) redemption, namely, the Immaculate Conception. Adrienne describes this action of the Father in the following way:

Mary’s Immaculate Conception can be called a gift of the Father to the Son. Nonetheless, Mary is redeemed naturally, that is to say, she is redeemed through the Son. But within this resides something similar to the Father accompanying the Son’s work; a proof before the proof; an assurance, given to the Son en route by the Father, that everything will go according to plan. (47)

That the Father gives the Immaculate Conception as a gift to the Son as a fruit of His (the Son’s) redemption, and as a co-operator in the Son’s work of redemption, should come as no surprise to those conversant with sacred scripture. In the Farwell Discourse of Jesus disciples we are told that the Father has given to His Son, as gift, those that are to be redeemed and, as a consequence of that redemption, those who are to participate in the Son’s redemptive mission (Jn.17:18, 24). (48) Therefore, if the disciples are gifts from the Father to the Son, how much more the woman who was to bear Him and cooperate with Him in the salvation of the world! She would of necessity, as a pre-redeemed gift from the Father, have to be immaculately conceived in order to fulfill her maternal role of giving flesh to the second person of the Trinity. Concerning this, Adrienne makes the following observation:

With the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, Mary therefore stands at a point of intersection in the Trinity, because she is a gift both from the Son to the Father and from the Father to the Son; the Father is preeminent in this since it is he who gives her to the Son in order to be able to get his work underway in the first place. (49)

One last point that needs to be mentioned concerning Adrienne’s presentation of the role of the Father in the immaculate Conception, and this should come as no surprise, is the presentation of the Immaculate Conception in nuptial (spousal) categories:

In her Immaculate Conception, Mary has the distinctive characteristic of heralding the coming of the even greater purity of the Son and his divinity. She is like a wedding ring that the Father gives to the Son as a deposit to show that the work of redemption will succeed. The Father’s gift (the Immaculate Conception) gushes forth through the Cross, but does so like a special rivulet that flows from the Father into the Mother. (50)

In this understanding Adrienne presents the Father as giving the Immaculate Conception to the Son for the purpose of both divine motherhood and spiritual betrothal. In the spiritual betrothal sense the Immaculate Conception stands as both archetype and mediatrix of the spousal union that occurs between God and man. Mary, as the Immaculate Spouse of Christ, is ultimately what the Father desires all human persons to be transformed into as the result of His Son’s mission to die for the life of the world. The Immaculate Conception is simply the Father’s pre-redemption gift to the Son. (51) Ultimately, it is the Father who prepares and gives the bride to His Son. Once again, these themes are very consonant with the sacred scriptures. One has only to think of the various Patriarchs and how each of them prepared a bride for their son, for example, Abraham-Isaac/Rebekah, Isaac-Jacob/Rachel. (52)

b) The Son and the Immaculate Conception

Concerning the relation that exists between the second person of the Trinity and the Immaculate Conception, Adrienne certainly adheres to the orthodox, and dogmatically defined, teaching that Mary was preserved from original sin “in view of the merits of Christ.”(53) While this definition has become common theological knowledge, Adrienne, while holding fast to it, nonetheless, builds her understanding of the relationship existing between the Son and the Immaculate Conception upon the preeminence of the Father and His relation to the Immaculate Conception. For example, Adrienne will state: “It cannot simply be said that the Son suffers on the Cross for the Mother. She is redeemed in a pre-light of the Cross. This demonstrates the magnanimity of the Father, a gift in advance from the Father to the Son.” (54) In this sense the Father already knows, and has planned into the Son’s work of redemption, the perfect fruit of His Son’s sacrifice: the Immaculate Conception; and, yet, in some mysterious way, the Son really redeems Mary by His sacrifice on the Cross. Thus, in typical paradoxical form, Adrienne will state: “She (Mary) is the Immaculate on the grounds of the Son’s pre-merit, which the Father recognizes and considers as something that has already been accomplished.” (55)

Perhaps the above statements will make more sense when seen in the light of a specific event in the life of Christ recounted for us in the Gospel of John. At one point John the Baptist cries out, in response to the questions of some of his own disciples and fellow Jews, concerning the identity of the Christ: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom” (Jn.3:29a). What are we to make of this? We can offer a sound theological answer when we take into consideration Adrienne’s thought on the Immaculate Conception; namely, the Father has prepared a bride for His Son, and already given her to His Son so that that same Son might always have before Him the perfect fruit of His forthcoming sacrifice. Furthermore, the gift that the Father has given to the Son is the Immaculata, the bridal-mother. In other words, John the Baptist gave witness to the core meaning and reality of salvation—though he neither expressed it clearly nor in quite so explicit Trinitarian terms as Adrienne—that the Christ in some mysterious way, a way that Adrienne makes perfectly clear and understandable, already has His bride, the Immaculata. John the Baptist hinted at the Immaculate Conception, even placing it within a nuptial context, though he most likely did not understand the full impact of what he was prophesying.

With these points in mind, Adrienne also has something to say concerning the Son, the Immaculate Conception, and the Church. (56) In Adrienne’s understanding the Immaculate Conception, as event and person, serves as the model and “prototype of the Church, the perfect bride in the ecclesial sense.” (57) Christ’s mission is to die for the sake of His one bride (Mary-Church); He does not have two brides. As a matter of fact, Christ must die for His Immaculate bride (Mary-Church) because if He does not, then we have an ontological problem due to the fact that the Virgin Mary has received the privilege of the Immaculate Conception in light of the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and God’s people (the Church) have been given divine promises of complete bridal renewal (immaculateness). Thus, the Immaculate Conception, the prototype of the bridal Church, is a sure proof that Christ will necessarily die on the Cross for His one bride; if the Immaculate Conception is from the Cross—and she is—then Christ must go there in order to redeem His one bride, Mary-Church. (58) In short, the reason Christ came to die was to redeemed the Immaculate—both Mary and the Church—and this is clearly shown through the truth of the Immaculate Conception, that is, the Immaculate Conception reveals the superabundant efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, for in His one sacrifice He both redeems the prototype (The Immaculata) and that which is patterned off of her (The Church).

Continuing with this theme, and in order to root it in the sacred events of the life of Christ, Adrienne describes the agony of Jesus on the Mount of Olives as His full acceptance of the painful reality of the pre-redemption of His bride:

There is a connection between Mary’s pre-redemption in heaven and its acceptance on the Mount of Olives: her pre-redemption is completely accepted on the Mount of Olives, and from there to the Cross its interest accrues until finally, with that interest, it is, as it were, subsumed in the paying of the price by the Son. (59)

Not only does Jesus redeem Mary and obtain for her the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, he also obtains for her the ability to objectively participate as Co-Redemptrix in his mission of salvation: “As God, he (Jesus) prepared the Mother’s Immaculate Conception in secret, but he still has to pay the price of the Mother’s earthly mission by suffering just as he pays the price of his own mission.” (60) What this means is that Jesus will undergo His agony so that she can fully be the suffering Immaculate Co-Redemptrix and objectively participate with Him in the redemption of the world; it also signifies that Mary did not participate in the acquisition of the grace of her own Immaculate Conception, but, she, by the will of her divine Son, will have a share in the Son’s obtaining all the other graces of redemption. (61)

Though it might as first appear that Adrienne is only speaking here about the Virgin Mary, it must be remembered that “whatever the Lord did for his Mother he did with his Church in mind.” (62) For this reason Adrienne understands the inner form of the Church to be the Immaculate Conception: “She (Mary) was directly fashioned with regard to the Son’s mission as the Immaculate Conception, for she is to make the Church possible, and the Son will not begin his work without the Church (His bride) being there in outline and in germ.” (63) Adrienne at various places—far too numerous to note here—will even state that Mary is the Church: “the Mother of the Lord is the Church;” (64) and “the Church, in the first instance, means Mary herself.” (65)

In making bold statements about Mary being the Church and Christ dying for her necessarily, it must be remembered that Christ has only one bride, Mary-Church. As Adrienne states: “The Lord turns his Mother into his bride, the Church.” (66) All of this can only happen because Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the “inner immaculateness” (67) of the Church. (68) These two, Mary and the Church, form a unity due to the fact that, as was stated earlier: “whatever the Lord did to his Mother he did with his Church in mind.” (69) The earthly Church will always have sinful members but as Adrienne states: “All the Church’s shortcomings, her inadequacies, faults, and blemishes, are, however, dissolved in the immaculate being of the virginal Bride.” (70)

For Adrienne, then, the Immaculate Conception is intimately bound up with Christology, Soteriology and Ecclesiology. She seems to have an uncanny ability to bring all of these distinct theological fields into one admirable whole, causing new insights to emerge from her integrating approach. A perfect example of this emerges when we try and encapsulate the way in which she interconnects the Immaculata with the Church. One possible way of summing it up—though Adrienne never stated it as such—would be in the following terse statement: immaculata facta ecclesia. Naturally this calls to mind the ancient Franciscan axiom: virgo facta ecclesia. While both statements are certainly true, it would certainly seem that understanding the Church as being modeled after the Immaculate takes the ancient adage a step further. Was this not what St. Maximilian Kolbe, a faithful son of St. Francis, wanted to do? Surely it was. After all, it is the Holy Spirit and St. Paul who state that the Church is to be “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing . . . holy and without blemish (immaculate)” (Eph.5:27).

c) The Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Conception

In considering the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, Adrienne will once again place the overall theme within a Trinitarian context, especially emphasizing the dynamic synergy between the Father and the Holy Spirit who work together to present this gift, the Immaculate Conception, to the Son:

Now it is fitting that, from the outset, the Father and the Holy Spirit show to the Son the efficacy of the Cross. In this regard, Mary is from the beginning a gift made by the Father and the Holy Spirit to the Son, almost as if the Mother, in her instrumentality, signified a form of pre-gift or deposit. In pre-redeeming the Mother toward the Cross (which ultimately means from the Cross), the Father and the Holy Spirit show to the Son the suitableness of the path upon which he has struck. (71)

As can be seen, the Immaculate Conception is not only a gift to the Son from the Father but also a gift from the Holy Spirit to the Son. Yet, because the Father and the Sprit are distinct divine persons, Adrienne will acknowledge there to be a distinct role played by the Holy Spirit in relation to the Immaculate Conception, namely, an ongoing action that allows Mary to keep her immaculateness:

The Spirit, who bears the seed of the Father into the womb of the Mother, accompanies this pre-redeemed Mother throughout her entire life. He receives her, as it were, from the Father’s hands so as to give her back into these hands. He participates as her advocate and comforter by keeping her away from all sin. (72)

From this perspective the relation of the Holy Spirit to the Immaculate Conception, both as event and as person, is not seen as a static relation. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is the constant companion of the Immaculata, keeping her safe from all spiritual harm (original sin and personal sin). Fr. Jacques Servais, a noted Speyrian and Balthasarian scholar, makes reference to this Speyrian theme by stating the following: “The privilege conferred on her (Mary) by the Holy Spirit in prevision of the merits of Christ, her immaculate conception, must not be understood as a simple result of the redemption, but rather as the effectual power of fruitfulness.” (73) This ‘effectual power of fruitfulness’ has its roots in the Trinity and makes its way to Mary through the conferral of grace; it is the work of the Holy Spirit to confer the fullness of grace upon the event and the person of the Immaculate Conception. For this reason, Adrienne can state that along with the Father and the Son it is “the Spirit . . . who plays such a great role in the Immaculate Conception.” (74) The Holy Spirit is the one who was, and is, constantly “overshadowing” both the person and mission of the Immaculata.

2) The Mission of the Immaculata

Another of Adrienne’s ingenious insights into the Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady in general, concerns approaching the subject from the perspective of mission. Approaching the mystery of the Immaculate Conception from this vantage point affords us new insights into who Mary is as a ‘person-in-mission’ within salvation history (past, present, future). Anyone who has read Adrienne’s works know very well that her particular insights into the notion of mission occupy a central place in her overall thought. (75) Specifically, in regard to the Immaculate Conception, she seems to highlight two dimensions of mission: 1) The Immaculate Conception: Commencement of Our Lady’s Mission, 2) The Annunciation: Revelation of Mission & Personal Assent.

a) The Immaculate Conception: Commencement of Our Lady’s Mission

In order to begin this difficult exposition of Adrienne’s thought on the Immaculate Conception it seems appropriate to let Adrienne speak for herself:

The end is contained in the beginning; therefore it is included in the same surrender, and it resembles the beginning in that it is just as obscure. Of both the end and beginning (of her mission) one does not deep down know what they are in their inner essence, or when precisely they occur. The angel’s visit seems to be a beginning and the death (of Christ) on the Cross, an end. But both are only the external event whereby something becomes visible which stretches out much farther in both directions (past and future). The Mother already said Yes before she began to pray, and this first prayer was already founded on her Immaculate Conception, which has its origin in the eternity of God. (76)

What this rather enigmatic statement describes, while being situated within the larger context of the Annunciation and Calvary, is that Mary’s mission of cooperation in the redemption began with her Immaculate Conception, and continues even after the death of her Son.

Adrienne will emphasize that even though the Immaculate Conception is a completely gratuitous gift from God, it is, also, the commencement of her mission because from the very beginning of her existence she is completely possessed by God, that is, full of grace. In other words, the mission of the Immaculata did not begin at the Annunciation. Rather, hers is a “mission which she received at the beginning” (77) the Annunciation, as we will see in the next section, is the making visible (revelation), through personal assent, the mission which she already possesses due to her immaculate being (conception).

At this point it is important to underscore what Adrienne is not saying about the Immaculate Conception and her mission. Adrienne, in seeking to highlight the fact that Mary’s mission begins with her Immaculate Conception (and not at the Annunciation), is not stating that Mary somehow anticipates, goes before, her Immaculate Conception. Such an understanding would be unorthodox—it would imply that Mary existed before the Immaculate Conception. (78) Rather, what Adrienne seeks to emphasize by stating that Mary’s mission begins with the Immaculate Conception is the idea that the Immaculate Conception contains within it a fundamental, ontological, stance toward God, and though freely given by God as grace, a fiat-structure constitutes the essence of her being; in other words, once the Immaculate Conception occurs as event (grace freely given), the person of the Immaculata stands in relation to God as complete ‘Yes,’ complete availability to His will. Adrienne underscores this element in a section where she expounds on Mary’s prayer as a youth:

She (Mary) is endowed with an attitude of prayer which is so much a part of her nature and an expression of her orientation to God that it is hers long before she can speak, long before she knows God. It is the attitude of the immaculate child, open to everything which presents itself to her and, since she is not touched by original sin, apprehending things with a great seriousness and an unclouded mind. (79)

Mary will certainly grow more fully into her mission but the Immaculata’s ‘Yes’ is there from the beginning because it is part of her being—it is at the Annunciation that her mission will appear visible and tangible (incarnational), and her already-existing Yes concrete (divine motherhood).

All of Mary’s life is to be seen as pure continuity from one event to the next; in other words, there is no radical re-orienting of her life due to the fact that she only experienced one radical (root) direction in life: to be a theological person, a person-in-mission, (80) from the first moment of her grace-filled conception. (81) Thus, as Adrienne will state: “Her life runs along a straight path, without detours, which leads from the Immaculate Conception to the betrothal, to assent to the angel, to the Nativity and to the Cross. In this she shows that she is not subject to the law of original sin.” (82) More precisely, the fact that she was immaculately conceived (grace-filled) has profound ontological implications. All who have come into the life of sanctifying grace (the inner life of the Trinity) have had a fundamental shift, an ontological jolt, in their orientation: ‘being-out-of-grace’ to ‘being-in-grace.’ Mary did not experience this ontological shift. (83)

Mary was conceived in sanctifying grace because of the loftiness of her mission, that is, to be the sinless (immaculate) handmaid of the Lord. Thus, Adrienne again brings out the ontological implications for Mary, the immaculate handmaid:

When a person who has been tainted with original sin places himself, body and soul, at God’s disposal, it never happens without a certain calculation. He sees and feels the renunciation of a great many natural gifts to which his nature seems to have a certain right, and what he has renounced is always reflected in his surrender. He cannot perfectly free himself from an attachment to what he has given away. The Mother (Mary) does not know this compromise. She does not weigh what she is giving and what she will receive for it. She knows no other use for her soul and body than being a servant. (84)

Mary’s entire constitution (spirit, soul, body) is so radically oriented toward God “because she is the Immaculate Conception,” that, as Adrienne notes, she “is thereby prepared to place herself thus at God’s disposal.” (85) Once again, this should not lead us to conclude that Mary did not grow into her mission; Adrienne affirms that Mary was a free creature, undergoing with all human creatures a development—as the Second Vatican Council called it, a “pilgrimage of faith.” (86) Thus the Immaculate Conception as mission should be understood as the “seed” which contains the entire fruit, while, at the same time, allowing for natural and necessary growth and development. (87) As Adrienne states: “A mission is not only something to be received and completed once and for all. It is also something growing, something to be newly undertaken and affirmed every day. Mary is always receiving her mission anew from the Son, all the way to the Cross.” (88)

One last point that needs to be mentioned concerning Adrienne’s notion of the Immaculate Conception as mission is that it only takes on meaning in light of the mission of Christ: “The loftiness of the Mother’s mission lies in its being a mission in the Son. Every Christian mission is contained in the mission of the Lord: it has its origin in him.” (89) Thus, the mission of the Immaculata, as in all Christian missions, is Christo-form. Nevertheless, in the mind of Adrienne, there does exist a certain paradox in the fact that the Son allows His mission to be built upon, and even become dependent upon, the mission of the Immaculata.

Concerning this wondrous inter-dependence of missions, Adrienne will note: “Mary’s mission paves the way for the Son’s mission. In accepting him (in the Incarnation), she accepts his mission within herself. Nonetheless, her mission is included in his to such an extent that he would sever his very self were he to sever himself from the Mother’s mission.” (90) Adrienne will even state that Mary is “an inseparable element of the mission of the Son himself.” (91) This mutual interpenetration and dependence of missions between the Immaculate Mother and the Divine Son is truly a work of the God of paradox!

b) The Annunciation: Revelation of Mission and Personal Assent

As was already stated, Adrienne understands Mary’s mission to reside in both the event and the person of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception remains both the gratuitous gift of God and the preparation for the climactic fiat that will bring about the instrument of our salvation, namely, the flesh of the God-man. After all, if God would prepare from the womb such a prophet as Jeremiah—a prophet whose mission was to utter the word of God—how much more would God radically (root) prepare the one who was to bear His Word and bring Him into the world! All of the preparations of the past, whether in prophets or Old Testament figures, pale in comparison to the radical preparation that God would fashion for the one who was to be the Mother of His Son and prototype of the Church: the Immaculata.

Mary, as the Immaculate Conception, is in mission from the first moment of her existence because of the primacy of Gods’ grace. She will grow into her mission by coming to know it more fully, but the form her mission will take—the concrete aspect of her mission—she leaves for God to reveal to her. As the Immaculata she accepts all things and awaits further instruction from the One to whom she makes herself pure availability. Once again this points back to her fundamental stance as handmaid. She has complete trust in God and knows that in His time he will reveal to her the concrete direction of her life. From this perspective we can see that the Annunciation does not come out of nowhere; it has a history and a preparation. Adrienne will state this fact quite clearly:

The angel shows Mary her situation; he does not create it. Through the greeting she achieves possession of self-knowledge; but she herself seems in this to be standing already in the service of heaven. The salutation sounds like a retrospect of her entire attitude until now, and we are not told when her mission had begun. The greeting promises a coming event; she is going to conceive the Son, she does not yet have him physically in her. But her mission she possesses already; it is much older than the conception (of Jesus). And so the promise of the Lord who is to come is the verification of the Lord who is already there in the mission which she received at the beginning (the Immaculate Conception). (92)

In this profoundly insightful statement we note the importance of looking at the Annunciation through the lens of the Immaculate Conception—without the reality of the Immaculate Conception there could be no Annunciation. (93) In essence, in Adrienne’s thought, the Annunciation requires that Mary be already in mission, a mission stemming from her being the Immaculata and already responding to God through complete availability, something only she can do because only she possesses the privilege of having the integrity consonant with being the Immaculate Conception. (94) In no way, however, should her already existing as a theological person in mission before the event of the Annunciation lead us to minimize the importance of her assent at the Annunciation; on the contrary, the Immaculate Conception and the fiat uttered at the Annunciation are inseparably linked. As Adrienne will state: “As a sheaf of grain is tied together in the middle and spreads out at either end, so Mary’s life is bound together by her assent (at the Annunciation). (95)

The Annunciation is where the mission of the Immaculata becomes visible, where it is fully revealed. To reveal something does not mean that that which is revealed did not previously exist, as if revelation were synonymous with creation. On the contrary, when a ‘revelation’ occurs it always implies that what is being revealed had prior existence and is now being given (revealed or unveiled) for the sake of direction—revelation is never static. At the Annunciation the Immaculata gives her climactic fiat to her already existent mission because at the announcement of the angel her mission takes on real (incarnational) direction: she is to be Mother of the God-man. Furthermore, the fact that Mary is the Immaculate Conception is the sine qua non for her full and freely given fiat in response to the angel. In the following passage Adrienne succinctly states the interrelatedness between the Immaculate Conception as mission and the personal assent of the Immaculata at the Annunciation:

. . . at the moment of her conception she was dissociated from original sin and thus from everything that might have weakened or impaired in her the power and perfection of her later assent. So great is the power and freedom of her consent that she is perfectly free from the slightest inclination to say No. This is so because her assent is prepared and planned from the first moment of her existence. (96)

Thus, the primacy of grace—evident in the gratuitousness of the Immaculate Conception—is at the foundations of both the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation (Mary’s assent to God’s plan of salvation). Grace gives the freedom that allows one to be available for the purposes of God—where there is no grace there is no freedom. For this reason the Immaculata knows full well that the privilege of being the Mother of God does not rely solely upon her personal assent. As Adrienne will note:

Assent, in its essence, is grace; a grace which, like every grace, comes from God, takes effect in man and his mission and has the possibility of being sent back autonomously, as a formed answer incorporated within the all-embracing mission of the Son, who, through the assent of man, then has the possibility of coming into the world as man. (97)

As the Immaculate Conception Mary co-operates with God in His saving plan, but she is also always aware that her cooperation as humble handmaid is meant to serve the greater mystery of the Incarnation:

Because she is the Immaculate Conception and therefore has herself a wonderful mystery in her own origin, for that very reason she steps back completely before the greater mystery of her Son’s birth. Not because she is so great as the Immaculately Conceived does God choose her for his mother, but rather, to put it plainly, in spite of the fact that she was already so much the Elect, she still performs this highest act of obedience by becoming the Mother of the Lord. (98)

Furthermore, according to Adrienne, the assent of the humble and obedient Immaculate handmaid is so important that it becomes not only the cradle of Christ, but, also the “cradle of all Christianity.” (99) The Immaculata is always at the service of humanity and its coming to know the God-man, Jesus Christ, because the Immaculata is always at the service of the Incarnate One. As the Immaculate Mother, through her free assent, she becomes the “refuge and protectress of mankind.” (100) Thus the fiat of the Immaculata, because it is the “condition and prototype, indeed the source, of all Christian assent to come,” (101) has a universal (catholic) dimension, which means that no one is exempt from going to Jesus through Mary.

3) Immaculate Co-Redemptrix

When we investigate Adrienne’s understanding of Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix we are immediately brought back to the privilege of her Immaculate Conception. The reasons for this should be obvious from what we have already presented, namely, since Mary’s mission began with her Immaculate Conception her role as Co-Redemptrix also began there. Thus, as Adrienne notes, Mary “was Co-Redemptrix before she spoke her personal Yes.” (102) This is an insight into Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix because many thinkers tend to posit that her role as Co-Redemptrix only began at the Annunciation. (103) Yet if all of Mary’s privileges were already present as capacities in the event of the Immaculate Conception—due to the loftiness and gratuity of her mission—then from the beginning she is the Immaculate Co-Redemptrix.

Adrienne does posit, however, that if Mary is to fulfill the role of Co-Redemptrix concretely, that is, real, meritorious co-suffering with Christ, she must have an unparalleled preparation; (104) this preparation is the completely free gift of her Immaculate Conception, and Mary can only be Co-Redemptrix because of it:

A purification without personal guilt has to be a purification for God to dispose of as he desires. In this Mary becomes Co-Redemptrix. This is not because she had to earn the grace of being the one who is pre-redeemed at the Cross. Her suffering is not used for that. It is free from the outset. She does not become one who is pre-redeemed through the co-redemption, but rather she becomes Co-Redemptrix through the pre-redemption (her Immaculate Conception). The pre-redemption (Immaculate Conception) is a completely free gift of grace from God that serves as the prerequisite for everything else. (105)

For Adrienne the terminology of pre-redemption is synonymous with the event of the Immaculate Conception and gives witness to the primacy and gratuity of God’s grace. The gift of Mary’s pre-redemption, the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, is the radical preparation so that she might be able to fulfill her lofty mission of being Co-Redemptrix. In this sense, as Adrienne will state, “her co-redemption (role as Co-Redemptrix) was already planned and contained in her pre-redemption (Immaculate Conception).” (106)

This should not lead us, however, to dismiss the power, efficacy and merit of the “co-redemptive fiat” (107) uttered by Mary at the Annunciation. As was stated earlier, Mary’s entire immaculate being is nothing but availability to the will of God. There is no radical shift in Mary’s mission; the continuity of her role as Immaculate Co-Redemptrix is seen in all stages of her life. Thus, although the Annunciation scene does not commence Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix but, rather, serves as a ‘revelation’ and further instruction as to the concrete (incarnational) path her role as Immaculate Co-Redemptrix will take, nonetheless, the Annunciation is of paramount importance for salvation.

Another aspect to Adrienne’s understanding of Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix is the fact that it is only because Mary is the Immaculate Conception that she can be an immaculate, meritorious victim and co-sufferer with Christ. Concerning this, Adrienne will state:

She (Mary) stands before the Lord on the Cross like the embodiment and summation of mankind. When he looks at her, he no longer sees, for a moment, the atrocious sinners for whose sake and at whose hands he is dying; he sees mankind as if transfigured in the form of his Mother. He had redeemed her also, by preserving her from sin. That gives her the capacity to suffer with him, vicariously for all, as an embodiment of the meaning of redemption, in the perfect unity of human nature and divine grace. (108)

Due to the close collaboration in which the Son pre-redeemed Mary in order to associate her “necessarily in his act of redemption” (109) Adrienne will posit that “Mary has real merit in the redemption.” (110) Naturally Mary’s form of merit would be de congruo (from fittingness), while Christ’s would be de condigno (from dignity) but, nevertheless, it is real merit in the redemption. (111)

Furthermore, it is because Mary is immaculate that she can participate in the redemption of mankind as Co-Redemptrix, co-suffering victim with Christ. According to Adrienne’s thought Mary “does not have the “alleviation” of original sin, which covers so much for the sinner. She is completely unprotected and exposed.” (112) Thus, her Immaculate Conception gives her the ability to suffer perfectly and freely, entering into the passion as pure victim. Adrienne will also, in no uncertain terms, elaborate upon the real, painful participatory sacrifice made by the Immaculate Conception in the redemption of mankind:

It will be much harder for the Son to take her, the innocent, with him into his Passion and to make use of her purity in a way that involves her in the work of redemption and makes her Co-Redemptrix. It will be much harder to involve one who is immaculate in all this than a convert, who has many personal things to atone and therefore gladly cooperates in bearing a share of the common guilt. The sacrificing of the Mother here approaches the killing of the “innocents.” (113)

Another point is that Mary’s exalted role, always understood by Adrienne in nuptial categories, (114) manifests her “feminine role as co-redemptrix.” (115) Therefore, the Immaculata becomes the model for the bridal co-redeeming Church since she is the “one who was pre-redeemed and who became the Church.” (116) In this sense, Adrienne has the perfect blend of Christo-typical Mariology (Mary’s relation to Christ) and Ecclesio-typical Mariology (Mary’s relation to the Church), as indicated in the following passage:

The Son needs the Mother’s suffering: not to lessen his own, but so that his suffering can begin to be affirmed and taken up by the other believers, so that it can be completed and spread abroad in the Church, according to his predetermined plan. The Mother’s Yes, her consent, uttered and lived out, was essential: it was to be an archetype, an example making (co-redemptive) suffering possible for the whole Church. (117)

There are some statements that Adrienne makes concerning the relation between Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her role as Co-Redemptrix that must be understood within the totality of her overall thought. For example, in a rather lengthy passage, Adrienne offers profound speculative insights into this topic:

She (Mary) exists in such harmony with corrected creation that redemption needs her as Co-Redemptrix. And, since redemption is the establishing of the true creature, being co-redeemed cannot be detached from co-creation. Of course, Mary is not there on the day of the first creation. But she is given the role of co-creating at the point at which it concerns the correction of creation and the restoration of Eve. In order to be capable of this, she is born without original sin in the same grace that Adam and Eve possessed before they fell, thus in the same grace that the Son possesses as Redeemer and in which he allows his Mother to participate. But in order to let her really become Co-Redemptrix, he must already distribute her being throughout the Old Testament. He does not simply want to return to Adam in himself, but also to Eve in Mary. Man alone should not be the one who is redeeming and redeemed: woman, too, should be the first redeemed and therefore co-redeeming. Just as Adam and Eve have sinned with one another, so, too, must the Son and Mother, at another level, redeem with one another; they put the work of redemption into place where the fall from sin occurred. Eve drew Adam into sin, and Christ draws Mary into redemption. (118)

This passage is as theologically profound as it is long! Yet, in all simplicity it is nothing more than a return to understanding redemption in classical Irenaen categories of recapitulation and recirculation. Certainly Adrienne takes it a step further by her insinuation—for she never stated it as such—that Mary is not only “causa salutis” but also “causa creationis.” (119) In another lengthy passage, Adrienne elaborates upon this:

Mary, the pre-redeemed, is already active as the one planned by God. In this respect, she forms a unique encounter between creation and (pre)-redemption (Immaculate Conception). A human father can say, “I want my son to be a doctor. From the day he was born I’ve done everything I can to make sure it happens.” But the son is of course always free to do something else. When, however, God the Father begins with Mary and her pre-redemption (Immaculate Conception), the realization of his plan already exists, so to speak. It is absolutely certain that she will henceforth belong to heaven and that her place there was secured from its creation. She is not pre-redeemed in a mere image or idea, but in fact and reality. It is a fact with real consequences. In eternal life such concrete certainties do exist. Accordingly, something of her already existed at the creation of the world. Her characteristics do not float around unpossessed, but rather she possesses them from the beginning. She has her place in the course of the world’s creation precisely because of her function as “Co-Redemptrix.” The idea of “co-redemption” is “older” than that of the pre-redemption: the latter is a consequence of the former, a means to an end. (120)

From this perspective Mary, as Immaculate Co-Redemptrix, is the original (first) plan of God for creation, thus Adrienne considers Mary to be the “first Eve” (121) who was “co-redeeming from eternity.” (122) Therefore, since Mary is in some sense a cause of both creation and salvation, Adrienne understands her to be the “mediatrix of all graces” (123) and the “nodal point at which all graces run together.” (124) These statements should not lead us to conclude that Adrienne is positing divinity to Mary, or stating that Mary existed before her Immaculate Conception. On the contrary, Adrienne’s main point is that the Immaculate Co-Redemptrix serves as the prototype of all creation and salvation; and because of this, she “goes before”—in the eternal mind of God—all finite things.

Perhaps returning to the theme of Mary as the ‘first Eve’ might help us to understand exactly what Adrienne means in the above statements:

Assume that a sculptor has a block of marble. Because the block has a certain form, he decides to shape the statue in a certain way. He will get to work on the statue, however, only once he has made a model out of ordinary clay of what he has in mind. Although the shape of the stone played a part in determining the idea, which is now exact in his mind, he will get to work on the marble only once he has made the clay model. In relation to Eve, Mary is the piece of marble that was there from the start. (125)

The logic used here by Adrienne also applies to her understanding of how Mary can be both the causa creationis et salutis, namely, Mary as mere creature—in contrast to the hypostatic union in the divine person of Jesus Christ, which is a marriage between divinity (God) and humanity (man)—serves as the blueprint of all finite (created) things, and this because of the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.


All in all, the thought of Adrienne von Speyr on the Blessed Virgin Mary, in particular, Mary’s privilege of the Immaculate Conception, provides current Mariological studies with much by way of new theological and mystical insights. In some mysterious way, Adrienne is able to combine Catholic Tradition, doctrine and magisterial teaching on Mary in such a way that the insights of the past ages are firmly held, and the new insights, while not only remaining simply rooted in the wisdom of the past, build on it and resonate harmoniously in order to present a fuller image of both the event and the person of the Immaculate Conception. A blend such as this, deeply theological and, at the same time, intensely devotional, is a gift for the Church in an age when theology and spirituality (holiness) are often presented in institutions of higher learning as fiercely inimical. A return to presenting Mary authentically in both theological circles as well as pious associations is certainly what is needed today. Adrienne offers such a solution.

What is perhaps the most interesting facet of Adrienne’s insights into the Immaculate Conception is that she bridges the chasm that can often occur in Mariology when too much emphasis is placed on one of two approaches, namely, Christo-typical or Ecclesio-typical Mariology. After Vatican Council II a serious rift occurred between these two approaches, often resulting in a neglect of the Christo-typical stance—although the papacy of John Paul II has sought to correct this aberration. Adrienne, for her part, knew of no such distinctions; she presents Mary, the Immaculate Conception, as necessarily related to both Christ and the Church. To overemphasize one will ultimately lead to the degradation of the other. Her genius is that she so integrates the two—something she does without even being aware of it—that she presents her readers with a tensionless Mariology, something rare in post-Vatican II Mariology.

Furthermore, her Trinitarian approach is truly fascinating when one considers the implications of her thought. By placing the mystery of the Immaculate Conception within a Trinitarian framework Adrienne has given modern Mariologists much to ponder; for this reason her insights into the Blessed Virgin Mary could be classified as part of the mid-twentieth century ressourcement approach. In addition, her profound insights into the nature of the mission of the Immaculata, that is, when the Immaculata’s mission began and what it requires to be completed, are insights that will surely gloss the pages of theologians and Mariologists for centuries to come.

The twentieth century was given a great gift in the person and ecclesial mission of Adrienne von Speyr. In can only be hoped that soon all of her works will be translated and studied in greater depth. Ultimately, what Adrienne has to say to the Church and to the world concerning Mary’s Immaculate Conception is that it is a privilege given both for Mary and for us, pro nobis. For, as Adrienne stated so well: “The protection of Mary from original sin is, for all of us, an invitation to purity, the grace of redemption, and the mystery of the Cross.” (126)


(1) Pope Pius XII, “Allocution to Catholic Relief Services,” December 8, 1955. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, December 12, 1955.

(2) The fact that Blessed Pope Pius IX burst into tears during the dogmatic pronouncement is attested to by the Most Reverend Dixon, Archbishop of Armagh, who was present at the ceremony: “His Holiness (Pius IX) who was ever remarkable for his devotion to the Holy Virgin, overpowered as if by the sense of the favor which God was conferring on him, in vouchsafing that he should be the instrument of rendering such an honor to this most beloved Mother, burst into tears. He went to read with a faltering voice, which betrayed the deepest emotion, the words ‘declaramus’ but for some minutes could proceed no further . . .” Cited by D.J. Kennedy, O.P. “The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception,” The Rosary Magazine, December 1904:601.

(3) An overview of Kolbe’s insights into the Immaculate Conception can be found in the following works: Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit: The Marian Teachings of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Fr. H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, O.P. Trans. Br. Richard Arnandez, F.S.C. (Libertyville: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1977); The Kolbe Reader, ed. Fr. Anselm W. Romb, O.F.M. (Libertyville: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1987)

(4) Virgo Immaculata: Acta Congressus Mariologici-Mariani Romae, Vol.1-10. Academia Mariana Internationalis, 1958.

(5) Worthy of note is the fact that certain Mariological societies, besides participating in the International Marian Congress of 1954, also had national symposia on the theme of the Immaculate Conception, e.g., the Flemish Mariological Society, Spanish Mariological Society (Spain), Canadian Mariological Society, and the Mariological Society of America.

(6) Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P. Mary, Mystery of Mercy. (Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2002), originally published as three separate works, Trois Mysteres de Misericorde from 1958-1960.

(7) Urban Mullany, O.P., “The Immaculate Conception in God’s Plan of Creation and Salvation,” in The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: History and Significance, ed. Edward D. O’Connor, C.S.C. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1958)

(8) Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M. A History of the Controversy Over the “Debitum Peccati.” Theology Series No.9 (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 1978)

(9) Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Vol. III. Dramatis Personae, Persons in Christ. Trans. Graham Harrison. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), originally published as Theodramatik: Zweiter Band: Die Personem des Spiels, Teil 2: Die Personem in Christus in 1978.

(10) Pope John Paul II, “Mariological reflection with interdisciplinary contribution,” Seventh Session of Pontifical Academies: October 29, 2002. L’Osservatore Romano. English Edition, November 13, 2002.

(11) Ibid.

(12) It should be noted that the Pope’s desire has been very well received. For example, the Pontifical Theological Faculty ‘Marianum’ offered “The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception: Current Problems and Attempts at a Renewed Understanding,” Fourteenth International Mariological Symposium, Rome, October 7-10, 2003; The International Pontifical Marian Academy offered “The Immaculate Conception: The Contribution of the Franciscans,” Assisi, December 4-8, 2003. Also worthy of note is the Mariological Society of America’s annual meeting to be held in Houston, Texas from May 19-22, 2004. The theme is “The Immaculate Conception: Human Destiny and Vocation.”

(13) Hans Urs von Balthasar, First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr. Trans. Antje Lawry & Sr. Sergia Englund, O.C.D. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981), 12.

(14) See, for example, Barbara Albrecht, Eine Theologie des Katholischen. Einführung in das Werk Adrienne von Speyrs(Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag); vol.1: Durchblick in Texten (1972); vol.2: Darstellung (1973); Pierangelo Sequeri, “La mistica oggettiva di Adrienne von Speyr. Elaborazione dell’oggettività teologica di un carisma ecclesiale,” Revista di teologia di Lugano 6 (2001): 91-104; Jacques Servais, “Per una valutazione dell’influsso di Adrienne von Speyr su Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Revista di teologia di Lugano 6 (2001): 67-90. Also, Johann G. Roten, S.M., gave a presentation at the 2003 Catholic Theological Society of America Annual Convention, Cincinnati, June 5-8, titled “Adrienne von Speyr as Theologian.” A synopsis of this presentation can be found in CTSA Proceedings 58 (2003): 124-125.

(15) In light of the heterodox theological tendencies that permeated western (English speaking) theological faculties in the post Vatican II Church, Regis Martin, writing in 1985, poignantly noted: “How very different the landscape of the Church might be today if, 20 years ago, publishers in this country (United States) had made available to us the works of von Speyr . . .” See Regis Martin, “Von Speyr’s life of grace,” National Catholic Register. December 29, 1985.

(16) See Adrienne von Speyr, My Early Years. Trans. Mary E. Hamilton & Dennis D. Martin (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 32-33.

(17) Ibid., 41-42.

(18) Ibid., 166-167.

(19) Ibid., 167.

(20) Johann G. Roten, S.M., “The two halves of the moon: Marian anthropological dimensions in the common mission of Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Communio: International Catholic Review 16 (Fall, 1989): 421.

(21) See von Balthasar, First Glance, 13.

(22) Von Balthasar, Our Task, 95.

(23) Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work: In Retrospect. Trans. Fr. Brian McNeil, C.R.V. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 89.

(24) See von Balthasar, Our Task, 73.

(25) See, for example, Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Continuum, 1994), esp. pp.3-4, 10-11, 300-305; Fergus Kerr, O.P., “Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar,” New Blackfriars 79 (January 1998): 26-32.

(26) See Tina Beattie, “A Man and Three Women. Hans, Adrienne, Mary and Luce,” New Blackfriars 79 (February 1998): 97-105.

(27) It is even noted that in her practice as a medical doctor she helped thousands of women from having abortions. See von Balthasar, First Glance, 32.

(28) It is important to note that most of the literary works attributed to Adrienne were not actually written by her hand but, rather, dictated to von Balthasar while she was in ecstasy; von Balthasar later edited and published them.

(29) Jacques Servais, “The ressourcement of contemporary spirituality under the guidance of Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Communio: International Catholic Review 23 (Summer, 1996): 300-321.

(30) Von Balthasar, Our Task, 89.

(31) See von Balthasar’s insightful comments on this topic in von Balthasar, First Glance, 57-58.

(32) There are some, however, who do question her theological orthodoxy. For an interesting exchange on this debate see Anne Barbeau Gardiner (with Fr. Jacques Servais’ response), “Correcting the Deposit of Faith? The Dubious Adrienne von Speyr,” New Oxford Review (September 2002): 31-45.

(33) This colloquium took place in Rome in the fall of 1985. In anticipation of this event von Balthasar, in 1984, published the book titled Our Task: A Report and a Plan. The various presentations from this colloquium are contained in La Missione Ecclesiale di Adrienne von Speyr: Atti del II Colloquio Internazionale del pensiero cristiano, ed. Hans Urs von Balthasar. (Milan: Jaca Book, 1986).

(34) John Paul II, “To Seminar on Adrienne von Speyr,” September 28, 1985. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, October 28, 1985.

(35) See the following excellent studies by Fr. Johann G. Roten, S.M. on the theme of Mary in the writings of Adrienne von Speyr: “Maria Und Die Theologische Biographie Adrienne Von Speyrs. Ein Versuch Narrativer Spiritualitat,” Ephmerides Mariologicae 52 (2002): 267-293; “The two halves of the moon: Marian anthropological dimensions in the common mission of Adrienne von Speyr and Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Communio: International Catholic Review 16 (Fall, 1989): 419-445.

(36) It can be surmised that in light of the fact that Pope John Paul II relies heavily upon the Mariological thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar that he is—at least implicitly—also relying (necessarily) upon the Mariological thought of Adrienne von Speyr. See, e.g., footnote #55 of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem where John Paul II explicitly mentions Hans Urs von Balthasar.

(37) Adrienne von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord. Trans. E.A. Nelson (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985).

(38) Von Balthasar, Our Task, 70.

(39) See von Balthasar, First Glance, 248.

(40) The late John Cardinal O’Connor even claimed that Adrienne’s Handmaid of the Lord is “Catholic theology at its most insightful and elegant.” See John Cardinal O’Connor, “Pastoral Reflections on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. VIII: Mary, the Mother of Christ’s Mass,” Catholic New York, December 24, 1998.

(41) Adrienne von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption. Trans. Helena M. Tomko. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 75.

(42) For example, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in his acclaimed work The Glories of Mary has a section titled: “How fitting it was that each of the Three Divine Persons should preserve Mary from Original Sin.” See The Glories of Mary (Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1931), pp.287-317.

(43) Adrienne von Speyr, The Countenance of the Father. Trans. David Kipp. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 128-129.

(44) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 85.

(45) Ibid., 18.

(46) Von Speyr, The Countenance of the Father, 71.

(47) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 85.

(48) Jesus will also state that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Jn. 6:44, 65.

(49) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 18.

(50) Ibid., 85.

(51) In this sense, Mary’s Immaculate Conception can be understood from a protological perspective. We, however, will acquire this “immaculateness” from an eschatological perspective.

(52) It is also interesting to note how Jesus often refers to Mary as woman, a term in the Greek that can mean bride.

(53) Blessed Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854. (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul), 21.

(54) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 21.

(55) Ibid., 86.

(56) For further reading in Speyrian/Balthasarian Mariological Ecclesiology see the work by Brendan Leahy, The Marian Profile: In the Ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: New City Press, 2000).

(57) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 101.

(58) Following this general line of thought, Pope John Paul II recently stated that “the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin is a pledge of salvation for every human creature.” See “For the Opening of the 150th Anniversary of the Immaculate Conception—Angelus Message,” December 8, 2003. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, December 10, 2003; John Paul II also noted that “The Immaculate Conception is . . . the promising dawn of the radiant day of Christ.” See “For the 12th World Day of the Sick, 11 February 2004—Message to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care,” December 1, 2003. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, January 21, 2004.

(59) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 76.

(60) Ibid., 75.

(61) A more detailed presentation of Adrienne’s notion of the Immaculate Conception as Co-Redemptrix will be covered later in the paper.

(62) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 139.

(63) Adrienne von Speyr, The Cross: Word and Sacrament. Trans. Graham Harrison. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), 33-34.

(64) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 95.

(65) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 139.

(66) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 111.

(67) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 142.

(68) Pope John Paul II, in a homily given on December 8, 1985 to the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, noted that it is through the “prism of the Immaculate Conception” that the Church comes to understand itself more fully. See The Extraordinary Synod—1985: Message to the People of God. (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1986), 97.

(69) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 139.

(70) Von Speyr, The Countenance of the Father, 99-100.

(71) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 17.

(72) Ibid., 18.

(73) Jacques Servais, “Mary’s Role in the Incarnation,” Communio: International Catholic Review 30 (Spring, 2003): 20.

(74) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 86.

(75) The task of this section of the paper is not to present a theological analysis of either of her notions of person or mission; such a task would require a separate investigation. For those interested in this topic, the following works should be consulted: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Theological Dramatic Theory. III. Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ. Trans. Graham Harrison. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), esp. pp. 149-271; Robert Sokolowski, Eucharistic Presence: A Study in the Theology of Disclosure. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994), esp. chapter 10 “The Christian Understanding of the Person,” pp.118-137.

(76) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the L ord, 118.

(77) Ibid., 28.

(78) That the Immaculate Conception has its origin in the eternity of God does not mean that the Immaculate Conception is divine. It simply means that it has been known by God, and planned by God, from all eternity.

(79) Adrienne von Speyr, The World of Prayer, Trans. Graham Harrison. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 97.

(80) See von Balthasar, Our Task, 111.

(81) The Immaculate Conception is the reason for the pure continuity existing between all of Mary’s various roles. Adrienne will explain this in regard to Mary’s simultaneous spousal relation to God and St. Joseph: “That Mary perceives no contradiction or tension between surrender to God and surrender to her husband can only be understood in light of her Immaculate Conception.” See Handmaid of the Lord, 54. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that von Balthasar, relying heavily upon Scheeben and von Speyr, grounds the paradoxical mission of the Immaculata, that is, her mission to be both the Mother and Companion-Bride of Christ, in a pre-lapsarian theological anthropology. In other words, she will only be able to fulfill her two-fold mission—maternal mediation and bridal co-suffering—if she is created in sanctifying grace, that is, the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception, for von Balthasar, takes away the “tension” of how she can be both Mother and Bride of Christ. See von Balthasar, Theo-Drama III. Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ. pp.318-327.

(82) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 56.

(83) Pope John Paul II stated it this way: “The unique privilege of the immaculate conception influenced the whole development of the young woman of Nazareth’s spiritual life.” Theotókos: Woman, Mother, Disciple. (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2000), 118.

(84) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 15-16.

(85) Ibid., 16.

(86) Lumen Gentium, 58.

(87) St. Maximilian Kolbe taught something similar: “Every man is born with the capacities required for the mission which God intends to entrust to him.” See Manteau-Bonamy, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit, 57.

(88) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 47.

(89) Adrienne von Speyr, The Mission of the Prophets, Trans. David Kipp. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 123.

(90) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 76.

(91) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 49.

(92) Ibid., 28.

(93) The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphatically affirms this point: “In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne of God’s grace.” par. 490.

(94) For example, as the Immaculate Conception, she would possess the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the infused theological and moral virtues, and complete integrity between spirit, soul and body.

(95) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 7.

(96) Ibid.

(97) Ibid., 11.

(98) Ibid., 26

(99) Ibid., 68.

(100) Ibid., 140.

(101) Ibid., 11-12.

(102) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 26.

(103) For example, since many of the early Church Fathers, especially the eastern Fathers, knew that Mary played a role in the redemption as associate and helpmate of Christ, they would often claim that Mary had to undergo some type of purification in order to participate in such an exalted role. Due to their inability to fully understand Mary’s sanctity (sinlessness), they usually attributed a form of pre-purification, προκάθαρσις, to the event of the Annunciation. See Manuel Candal, S.J. “La Virgen Santisima ‘prepurificada’ en su Anunciación, » Orientalia Christiana Periodica 31 (1965): 241-276.

(104) Adrienne will employ the language of ‘purification’ to describe this preparation, but in no way does she mean that Mary was at any time under the bondage of sin, whether original or personal.

(105) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 80.

(106) Ibid., 83-84.

(107) See von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 67.

(108) Ibid., 116-117.

(109) Ibid., 37.

(110) Ibid.

(111) A classical understanding of these notions is the distinction between objective and subjective redemption. It can be said that Jesus and Mary alone (Mary, of course, in a subordinate sense) participate in objective redemption, i.e., both the acquisition and distribution of the graces of redemption; the Church participates only in subjective redemption, i.e., the distribution of the graces of redemption.

(112) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 122.

(113) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 32.

(114) It is worth noting that in the forward to the Italian translation of Mary in the Redemption, Roberto Carelli underscores Adrienne’s notion of Mary Co-Redemptrix as a nuptial role. See Adrienne von Speyr, Maria nella Redenzione, Trans. Roberto Carelli. (Milano: Jaca Books, 2001), 7-23.

(115) Von Speyr, Handmaid of the Lord, 72.

(116) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 109.

(117) Adrienne von Speyr, Three Women and the Lord. Trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 27.

(118) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 64-65.

(119) Interestingly, John Paul II recently noted: “The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception introduces us into the heart of the mystery of the Creation and Redemption.” See “For the 12th World Day of the Sick, 11 February, 2004—Message to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care,” December 1, 2003. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, January 21, 2004.

(120) Von Speyr, Mary in the Redemption, 19.

(121) Ibid., 20.

(122) Ibid., 112.

(123) Ibid., 86, 107, 108.

(124) Ibid., 57.

(125) Ibid., 20.

(126) Von Speyr, The Countenance of the Father, 97.

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