The Immaculate Conception in the Thought of Adrienne von Speyr

Updated: May 30, 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 contr