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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 Divi