The Predestination of the Virgin Mother and Her Immaculate Conception

Updated: May 30, 2020

The following is an excerpt of an outstanding theological treatment of the Immaculate Conception by the renowned mariologist, Fr. Peter Damien Fehlner, OFM Conv. The full article can be found in the mariological anthology entitle, Mariology: For Priests, Deacons, Religious, and Seminarians, published by Queenship Publications. -Ed


The two closely related mysteries treated in this chapter are extraordinarily important, indeed, according to the Scotistic-Franciscan view of Mariology, crucially important, for a correct appreciation of Catholic theology on Mary and the Marian character of “our theology,” viz., the saving knowledge of God possible to us in a time of pilgrimage (1).

Since the close of Vatican II, and despite that Council’s very firm reaffirmation of both mysteries in the traditional sense (2), treatment of the predestination of Mary has disappeared from Mariological study. Some expositions of the Immaculate Conception have either 1) minimized its binding dogmatic character with calls for its “dedogmatization,” viz., its reduction to the status of a thesis pertaining to an unimportant and perhaps out-dated theological system no longer binding in faith on all Catholics; 2) downplayed or even denied its character as a unique privilege of Mary alone, and so reducing the Mother of God to the status of just another woman; or 3) totally naturalized the privilege (along the lines of the ancient heretic Pelagius) by eliminating any reference in its definition to original sin (3).

Closely examined, these trends reflect both the anti-metaphysical, anti-supernatural and ultimately pantheistic character fueling some current theological speculation claiming to offer “new” and “radically different” directions given to Catholic thought and life by Vatican II (4). Pope Benedict XVI has recently (5) described this kind of Vatican II hermeneutic as one of discontinuity, inevitably leading to rupture within the Church. Such a hermeneutic, says the Holy Father, betrays the genuine intentions and meaning of the council texts, which are those of continuity and renewal in harmony with Tradition. Continuity with Tradition in reading Vatican II means not opposing the metaphysical and supernatural character of patristic-scholastic theology, always insisted upon authoritatively by the apostolic Magisterium, to a biblical-historical approach as mutually exclusive alternatives. Rather, continuity with tradition postulates a recognition that the metaphysical and supernatural content of theology is at the very heart of the biblical-historical. Both Bl. Pius IX in the bull of definition of the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854, and Pope Pius XII in the bull of definition of the Assumption, Munificentissimus Deus, 1950, expressly teach the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary: uno eodemque decreto (in one and the same decree). Vatican II, in its summary of the Mariology of the Church, has done nothing else but point this out, stressing in particular how 1) the joint predestination of Mary with Christ (Lumen Gentium 61 and 62) and 2) the Immaculate Conception as the beginning of her history (Lumen Gentium 56), are starting points for understanding the person and unique role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, both in the mind of God and in the unfolding of the divine counsels of salvation. And John Paul II reiterates, in Redemptoris Mater 8-10, that this doctrine is at the root of the Church’s teaching and of our faith concerning the economy of salvation. This is what is meant when Mariology is described as metaphysical, and when our metaphysics is said to be radically Marian-Christic (6).

Hence, a biblically based theology is radically metaphysical at its core, because in the final analysis the very possibility of an economy of salvation and an order of finite realities outside the Creator and Savior is anchored in the counsels of the divine will, that is, on predestination or the order between various intentions determined by divine mercy and goodness. In turn, a full grasp of theological metaphysics is only possible via Revelation, viz., via Scripture and Tradition. No one has ever seen God or known the counsels of his will except him who is in the bosom of the Father. On entering our world through and from the bosom of Mary, he has told us about this “metaphysics” (cf. Jn 1:18). This is why biblical history is metaphysical, and theological metaphysics is biblical.