I recently wrote several posts about Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. I think by any objective standard, I am a “high Mariologist.” I affirm all of the defined dogmas relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I affirm that the miraculous, virginal, painless birth of Our Lord is a defined dogma. I affirm that Our Lady is Universal Mediatrix of Grace, Co-Redemptrix, and Advocate. In a very real sense, she is the primary beneficiary of the redemption wrought by Our Lord.
Still, it’s possible to go too far, affirming propositions about the Blessed Virgin that exceed the dignity God bestowed upon her. I personally think St. Maximilian Kolbe went too far in some of his writings, and that these excesses skew the Mariology of some of his followers. I give one example here. Kolbe once wrote*:
“. . . point up not only the fact that she was conceived without sin, but also the manner in which this privilege belongs to her. It is not something accidental; it is something that belongs to her very nature. For she is Immaculate Conception in person.” (Emphasis added.)
I cannot conceive (pun intended) of any way in which this statement makes sense. The nature of the Blessed Virgin Mary is simply human nature, which she shares with sinners and with her Son. By nature, she is a human being, period. “Immaculateness” is not and cannot be part of her nature. The grace of her Immaculate Conception is quite simply a grace, which means a divine gift that *exceeds the nature* of the recipient.
Now, perhaps St. Maximilian means that the Immaculate Conception is integral to the specific role in salvation history that God predestined and called the Blessed Virgin Mary to. That’s non-controversial and orthodox, but I also don’t think that’s what he meant. I think he meant exactly what he wrote. It’s word salad as far as I can tell, but I think he meant it. St. Maximilian seems to write with an imperative to exceed, to pass beyond boundaries of what previous writers wrote. I think that’s fair to say. I also find some of these excesses imprecise and more confusing than enlightening.
I wonder if this has something to do with St. Maximilian being a Franciscan. It seems to me that Franciscans often hit upon some idea that intrigues them and provokes their imagination and love (=volition). Then they come up with arguments to defend it. Quite unlike the rigorous, “colder” logic of a Dominican. (For more about this idea, see here: https://driftlesscatholic.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/three-argumentologies/.) I wish that the Church would issue some sort of monitum on some of these expressions of Kolbe’s, which I’m afraid serve as a pitfall for Mariologists. Here’s a canonized Mariologist, and we’re stuck trying to defend his every imprecise and fanciful expression. Maybe we don’t need to, and actually shouldn’t.
An addendum: Perhaps I’m being too harsh on St. Maximilian here. I believe he was driven by the words of Our Lady at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Perhaps we can get at this truth better by replacing the word “nature” in that quotation with “identity.” Our Lady qua human being is not immaculate. However, as a concrete human being, this instance of human nature, this human person, she was predestined to enter the world already in a state of grace. To be “full-of-grace-to-the-exclusion-of-all-sin” is to be the Mary whom God made her to be. In that sense, she would be the “Immaculate Conception in person,” without immaculateness “belonging to her very nature.” Thus Mariology recapitulates Christology, revisiting the same principles and distinctions, but looking at Christ considered not in Himself but in His most perfect disciple, His Blessed Mother.
*I cite this website (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=4270), which cites the following source for this quotation: Manteau-Bonamy, 7, quoting from Letter by Kolbe from Nagasaki to the Youth of the Franciscan Order, Feb. 28, 1933. “Manteau-Bonamy” here refers to the following book, which I skimmed a few times when I was a teenager: Fr. H. M. Manteau-Bonamy, O.P., Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit (Kenosha, Wisc.: Prow Books/Franciscan Marytown Press, 1977).