St. Maximilian Kolbe – Marian Martyr of Charity
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (1894-1941) lived a life of intense devotion to the Mother of God. He founded the Militia Immaculata to promote Marian devotion and to fight against freemasonry. He also established a city of the Immaculate (Niepokalanow, Poland). It was populated by souls consecrated to Our Lady. They worked to “Marianize the world” through various media channels.
(Note: The term ‘Pneumatological’ is simply a theological term to refer to the Holy Ghost or things pertaining to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. The prefix “pnuema-” comes from the Greek word for ‘breath’, or ‘spirit,’ or ‘soul.’)
The more we know about Our Lady, the greater we can love Her and render Her due honor. And we can learn much about Her from this humble Franciscan. In fact, St. Maximilian should be numbered among the greatest Mariologists of the 20th century. Nonetheless, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the “Martyr of Charity” was his contribution to the understanding of Our Lady’s relationship to the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Trinity.
Infallible Marian Dogmas
At present, the Church has exercised her power of infallibility to declare four Marian dogmas: (1) Her title Mother of God,[i] (2) Her Perpetual Virginity,[ii] (3) Her Immaculate Conception,[iii] and (4) Her Glorious Assumption.[iv]
It is important to realize that these dogmas are of Apostolic origin, form part of Catholic Tradition, and are part of the Deposit of Faith. Even though they were each dogmatically and infallibly defined in a particular year, be it 431 or 1950 or other, they have always been believed by the Catholic faithful, and the Church has expressed them since time immemorial through her sacred liturgy.
These four dogmas pertain to the being of Mary. In other words, they address the question, “Who is Mary?” We continue to pray for the Church to exercise her extraordinary power of infallibility to declare other titles of Our Lady as a fifth Marian dogma,[v] which pertain to Her actions. These address the question, “What does Mary do?” Our Lady is the Mediatrix of All Graces, meaning all graces originate from God and flow through Her to be distributed to all God’s creation. Our Lady is also the Co-Redemptrix. God willed that She cooperate in a singular (unique) and instrumental manner with Christ’s work of redemption as His Mother and as our Advocate (the channel through which all of our prayers return to God). This role of Our Lady is perhaps best expressed by Her standing at the foot of the Cross on Calvary.
Although this proposed fifth dogma has not been dogmatically defined by an extraordinary use of the Church’s infallible authority, these titles have been used and promoted by the Church’s ordinary and universal magisterium (which is another means by which the Church exercises her infallible teaching authority). These titles are part of Catholic Tradition and are theologically certain. They have been transmitted through the Sacred Liturgy, the principal means by which the Church conveys her Sacred Tradition. Many Church Fathers, saints, Popes and theologians, have implicitly – and explicitly –described Our Lady in these terms.[vi]
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., arguably the greatest Thomist scholar of the 20th century and a contemporary of Saint Maximillian, maintains that the Blessed Virgin Mary was more perfect than and surpassed even the angels. Her obedience was more prompt and Her humility more profound. The angels each have authority over different persons or areas (countries, parishes, etc.) whereas Our Lady is Queen over all creation. The Blessed Virgin has merited all the graces that Jesus merited. Whereas the angels and the saints have merited some graces, Our Lady has merited them all (Mediatrix!) by Her special union (Co-Redemptrix!) with Our Lord. (See his work, The Mother of the Saviour, or the video series hosted by The Fatima Center: Know Mary, Know Jesus by Fr. Daniel Couture.)
But even the public proclamation and defining of a fifth Marian dogma would not be enough honor given to Our Lady. For we can never give Mary more honor than the Blessed Trinity has and does.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Contributions to Marian Dogma
Most people are not aware that St. Maximilian Kolbe assigned six provocative titles in particular to Mary: (1) Spouse of the Holy Ghost, (2) the “Created Immaculate Conception” (while the Holy Ghost is the “Uncreated Immaculate Conception”), (3) Complement of the Trinity, (4) Quasi-part of the Trinity, (5) Quasi-incarnation of the Holy Ghost, and (6) Transubstantiated into the Holy Ghost. But St. Maximilian said nothing new. He merely assigned titles that were already previously described many times over in the Tradition of the Church.
Before discussing each of these seemingly provocative titles, there are a few important points we should keep in mind. First, and most obviously, Mary is not God. She is a contingent created being entirely dependent on God. As the moon has no light of its own, except that which it reflects from the sun, so all of Our Lady’s light and glory is but a reflection of Her Son. Nevertheless, nothing God has created (including all the angels and saints combined) is more closely united to Him, glorifies Him more, contains more beauty, or brings Him greater delight than Mary. Well did St. Albert the Great state, “Mary could not have been more closely united to God without becoming God.”
Second, these titles of Mary are to be understood analogically, not literally. The word “quasi” itself implies both similarity as well as dissimilarity. Saint Maximilian frequently wrote of the inadequacy of human words when used to express divine realities.
Finally, we must remember the destiny of all Christians is divinization, though to an incomparably lower degree than Our Lady. Saint Athanasius the Great, and first Church Doctor, wrote: “God became man, that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). Our destiny, if we cooperate with God’s grace, is to become partakers in the divine life throughout eternity. Once these three clarifications are understood, we can begin to plumb the depths of St. Maximilian’s Marian insights. As we carry out this exercise, let us echo St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s cry “De Maria Numquam Satis!” (of Mary there is never enough).
To be continued tomorrow: Part II, “Understand Marian Titles Correctly.”
[i] “If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel [Christ] in truth is God and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God [Theotokos], for according to the flesh she gave birth to the Word of God become flesh by birth, let him be anathema.” Canon I from the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D. in The Anathemas of St. Cyril against Nestorius (Denzinger 113).
[ii] “If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accord with the holy Fathers, that the holy Mother of God and ever Virgin and immaculate Mary in the earliest of the ages conceived of the Holy Ghost without seed, namely, God the Word Himself specifically and truly, who was born of God the Father before all ages, and that she incorruptibly bore Him, her virginity remaining indestructible even after His birth, let him be anathema.” Canon 3 from the Lateran Synod of 649 A.D. under Pope St. Martin I, Against the Monothelites (Denzinger, 256).
[iii] “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution of Bl. Pope Pius IX, 8 Dec 1854.
[iv] “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Munificentissimus Deus, Apostolic Constitution by Pius XII, 1 Nov 1950.
[v] Some Mariologists group both titles of Mediatrix of All Graces and Co-Redemptrix into one Marian dogma, whereas others speak of them as two individual doctrines. Other theologians also include the title of “Our Advocate” in the same breath as these two. A pope could easily define all these Marian teachings within the same document. Devotees of Our Lady also look forward to the day when other prerogatives (titles) of Our Blessed Mother might also be infallibly defined and proclaimed, such as Her being “Mother of the Church” and “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” For ease in our manner of speaking, we simply refer to one, some, or all of these as a “fifth” Marian dogma which we believe (and pray) will be infallibly declared in the future.
[vi] Numerous citations abound, but here we list just a few examples. On the liturgical feast of Mary, Mediatrix of Grace (June 8), the Divine Office reads: “Come let us adore Christ the Redeemer, who willed that we receive all good things through Mary.” Saint Bernardine of Siena (†1440) taught: “No grace descends to souls from Heaven but is dispensed by the Virgin Mary.” For Co-Redemptrix, Pope Pius XII said in a radio broadcast to pilgrims at Fatima (13 May 1946): “For having been associated with the King of Martyrs in the ineffable work of human redemption, as Mother and cooperatrix, she remains forever associated with Him, with an almost unlimited power, in the distribution of graces which flow from the Redemption.” St. Bridget of Sweden (†1373), in a mystical ecstasy, heard Our Lord’s words, “My Mother and I saved man as with one Heart only, I by suffering in My Heart and My Flesh, she by the sorrow and love of her Heart.” (Revelationes, L. I, c.35.) Or again, Pope Leo XIII’s teaching that “[I]n the Rosary all the part that Mary took as our co-Redemptress comes to us, as it were, set forth, and in such wise as though the facts were even then taking place; and this with much profit to our piety…” (Encyclical Iucunda Semper Expectatione, 8 Sep 1894).