“Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” asks St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. The Knight of the Immaculata goes on:
Not God, for God has no beginning. Not Adam, made from the dust of the earth. Not Eve, drawn from Adam’s body. Nor is she the Incarnate Word who already existed from all eternity and who was conceived, but is not really a “conception.” Prior to their conception the children of Eve do not exist, hence they can more properly be called “conceptions”; and yet you, O Mary, differ from them too, because they are conceptions contaminated by original sin, whereas you are the one and only Immaculate Conception.1
The Vertex of Love
In the return of all created things to God the Father (cf. Jn 1:1; 16:28), “the equal and contrary reaction,” says St. Maximilian Kolbe, “proceeds inversely from that of creation.” In creation, the Saint goes on to say, the action of God “proceeds from the Father through the Son and the Spirit, while in the return, by means of the Spirit, the Son becomes incarnate in [the Blessed Virgin Mary’s] womb and through Him love returns to the Father.”2 The Saint of Auschwitz goes on:
In the union of the Holy Spirit with her, not only does love bind these two beings, but the first of them [the Holy Spirit] is all the love of the Most Holy Trinity, while the second [the Blessed Virgin Mary] is all the love of creation, and thus in that union heaven is joined to earth, the whole heaven with the whole earth, the whole of Uncreated Love with the whole of created love: this is the vertex of love.3
The image St. Maximilian employs here of action and equal-and-opposite reaction is taken from Newtonian mechanics,4 specifically the proposition known as Newton’s third law: “For every action force there is an equal-and-opposite reaction force.” Thus, we may visualize the image being employed by St. Maximilian Kolbe as two “bodies” in equilibrium, which meet at a single point of contact at the “center” of salvation history. The two contacting bodies represent heaven and earth; the uncreated and created orders; God and his creation. The contact point is the Immaculate Conception: the Vertex of Love.5
It may seem very wrong to use an image of “force equilibrium” to represent the state of affairs between heaven and earth, because how can this state between God and his creation be in equilibrium? Isn’t God’s act of love so much greater than the return of his creation that no “equilibrium” would be possible? This would certainly be the case if it were not for Emmanuel, that is, God with us. Jesus, Who is truly man and truly God, belongs to both the created and uncreated orders simultaneously. In His person, Jesus is both the Son of Mary, fully human and like us in all ways except sin, and the Eternal Son of God the Father, infinite and equal in all ways to the Triune God.
The Created Immaculate Conception
It is clear that the love of Jesus, the Word made flesh Who is God, is by itself enough to “balance” the love of God. However, there is even more in the equation of love’s equilibrium than the love of the Son, infinite and sufficient in itself though it is. According to St. Maximilian, the perfect love of the Trinity meets an adequate response in the perfect love of the Immaculate, which is the name St. Maximilian gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary. How is it possible that Divine Love can find an adequate response in the love of a creature? It is possible precisely because of the name that the Virgin Mary can claim for herself. In 1854, the Blessed Virgin Mary proclaimed to St. Bernadette Soubirous: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In the words of St. Maximilian, the Blessed Virgin is the Created Immaculate Conception, as the Holy Spirit is the Uncreated Immaculate Conception. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.6 St. Maximilian Kolbe, a true son of St. Francis, explains:
What kind of union is this? It is above all interior; it is the union of her very being with the being of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her, from the first instant of her existence, and he will do so always, throughout eternity… This uncreated Immaculate Conception conceives divine life immaculately in the soul of Mary, his Immaculate Conception. The virginal womb of her body, too, is reserved for him who conceives there in time—everything material comes about according to time—the divine life of the God-Man.7
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as the perfect and infinite Love between the Father and the Son in the Eternal interior life of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, the Holy Spirit is truly all the love of the Most Holy Trinity. “Hence the Holy Spirit is an uncreated conception, an eternal one; he is the prototype of every sort of human conception in the universe… [He] is a most holy conception, infinitely holy, immaculate.” 8The Holy Spirit is also called the Complement of the Blessed Trinity, because He is the completion of the Trinity, not in “number” (quantitatively), but in essence (qualitatively).
When Mary, by the design of God before the creation of angels or the universe, and before the existence of sin or evil, was predestined in one and the same decree with Jesus Christ,9 she was predestined to be the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and so was predestined to hold within herself all the love of creation. Thus, St. Maximilian says that the Blessed Virgin Mary, “inserted into the love of the Most Holy Trinity becomes, from the very first moment of her existence, always, forever, the Complement of the Most Holy Trinity.”10 We may paraphrase the thoughts of St. Maximilian Kolbe on the spousal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the words of Fr. Peter Damian M. Fehlner:
In virtue of this spousal union formally denoted by the title Complement, Mary is able to enter as no other into the order of the hypostatic union, her soul being wholly divinized, because by the grace of the Immaculate Conception it has been ‘transubstantiated’ into the Holy Spirit. 11
Now that we have balanced the equation of love’s equilibrium twice over, we could certainly stop. However, there is good reason to continue. The order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reflects the order of God’s loving act of creation: initiated by the zeal of the Father, designed by the wisdom of the Son, and effected by the action of the Holy Spirit. This is the order referred to by St. Maximilian when he says “the equal and contrary reaction [i.e., the return of all creation to God] proceeds inversely from that of creation.”
Thus, in the response of creation to God the Father, we first have Mary, who is the perfect similitude (St. Bonaventure), transparent icon—or even quasi-incarnation—of the Holy Spirit (St. Maximilian Kolbe),12 but who is still a created person, with a created human nature. We have Jesus, Who is the Word Incarnate, the same Person as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but Who is still in possession of a created human nature. St. Maximilian stops here, but must we stop here? I would dare to say that the analogy we have carried out so far on the inspiration of St. Maximilian Kolbe suggests an obvious completion. We have the completion of the earthly trinity in St. Joseph, who has been called the perfect icon of God the Father (St. Theresa of Avila, St. Bernadette Soubirous, St. Peter Julian Eymard).13
The Icons of Love
In the return of all created things to God the Father, first in the order of time we find Mary, who is like the Holy Spirit quasi-incarnate. 14 The Holy Spirit’s role in the Blessed Trinity is that of action, because all of God’s actions are acts of Love, and the Holy Spirit is the Love of God. According to St. Maximilian, the dual role of Mary is that of instrument, orAncilla (handmaid). In every action of God in the order of Grace, Mary acts as an active instrument in her role as Mediatrix. She is also active in our Redemption—both the objective and subjective Redemption—in her role as Coredemptrix with Christ, again as an instrument of God. The word that Mary speaks to God is Fiat: let it be done to me according to thy Will.
Second in the order of time in creation’s return to God, we find Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is the Sun of Justice, as we know from the Liturgy.He took on human nature, suffered, and died on the cross so that God’s justice could be satisfied. Thus, Jesus Christ has the dual role of God’s justice and man’s satisfaction of God’s justice. He is God’s justice as the Eternal Word, the Son of God the Father in eternity. He is the satisfaction of God’s justice as the Son of man, the Son of Mary and Joseph, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In the words of Father Joachin Ferrer Arellano:
Although Sacred Scripture does not make use of the term satisfaction adopted by St. Anselm 15
to refer to the death of Christ, it employs equivalent concepts or those that imply and aptly express this classic and venerable theological category taken up by the Magisterium, not without sapiential inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus, e.g., for Jesus to die on behalf of the impious and sinners, means that it is in the death of Christ where the reconciliation of sinners with God is effected, in such a manner that, for this reason, the Death of Christ becomes the ransom, the propitiation and expiation for our sins. The Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). 16
Last in the order of time in creation’s return to God, we find St. Joseph, who is the icon of the Father. God the Father is the initiator of all things, both in the uncreated and the created order. As initiator, his role in the Blessed Trinity is especially that of holy zeal. The response of St. Joseph to the zeal of God the Father is obedience. Holy obedience is the only fitting return that a creature can make to God’s zeal. Moreover, far from being merely “passive,” it is only in this perfect, holy obedience that a true reflection of God’s zeal can be found in a creature. We know this, because we know that St. Joseph is the perfect icon of God the Father; and the Gospel tells us that every one of St. Joseph’s actions were the fruit of his perfect, holy obedience. In the words of St. Peter Julian Eymard:
When God sends an angel to charge him with the care of Mary in spite of the mystery which surrounds her maternity and troubles his humility, he obeys; when he is told to flee into Egypt under painful circumstances well calculated to fill him with worry and anxiety, he obeys without the slightest word of objection. On his return he has no idea where to go; naturally he heads for Bethlehem since the Child had been born there and God had not revealed otherwise. Not until he has reached the very gates of Judea does God advise him in a dream to return to Nazareth. Surely God could have warned him in advance, but it pleases Him to see these sacrifices accepted out of obedience. In every situation Joseph’s obedience is as simple as his faith, as
humble as his heart, as prompt as his love; it neglects nothing; it is universal. 17
In the return of all created things to God the Father, it is under the leadership of St. Joseph, our Patriarch, and in imitation of him, that the individual members of the Church must, by the merits gained for us through the Redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, be transubstantiated into Mary,18who is the Virgo Ecclesia Facta (the Virgin-Made-Church).19
It is only in this way, being transubstantiated into Mary, the Created Immaculate Conception, that we can be united to God as she is uniquely united to God, being transubstantiated with her into the Uncreated Immaculate Conception, who is the Holy Spirit. In virtue of this transubstantiation, we are possessed by the Immaculate, and we are thereby formed into a single community or Church sharing her personality. In the unsurpassable words of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Martyr of Charity:
She is God’s. She belongs to God in a perfect way to the extent that she is as if a part of the most Holy Trinity, although she is a finite creature. Moreover she is not only a “handmaid,” a “daughter,” a “property,” a “possession,” etc., but also the Mother of God! Here one is seized with giddiness… she is almost above God, as a mother is above her sons who must respect her. The Immaculate is a Spouse of the Holy Spirit in an unspeakable way… She has the same Son as the heavenly Father has. What an ineffable family! We belong to her, to the Immaculate. We are hers without limits, most perfectly hers; we are, as it were, her. Through our mediation she loves the good God. With our poor heart she loves her divine Son. We become the mediators through whom the Immaculate loves Jesus. And Jesus, considering us her property and, as it were, a part of his beloved Mother, loves her in us and through us. What a lovely mystery!20
1 SK 1318. All citations from the writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe are abbreviated SK and taken from Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe, Rome, 1997.
4 St. Maximilian Kolbe liked physics. He once consulted with one of his physics professors on how he could build “ballistic missiles” that could drop packets of Marian publications on cities around the world more quickly than they could be delivered by regular mail.
5 Cf. Figure 1 in J. Fleischmann, “The Vertex of Love,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, October 8, 2012.
6 The title “Sponsa Spiritus Sancti,” or Spouse of the Holy Spirit, is applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Francis of Assisi in the Antiphon “Sancta Maria Virgo,” within his Office of the Passion. Cf. J. Schneider, O.F.M., Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, (New Bedford,
MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), p. 105.
7 SK 1318.
9 Cf. the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus, issued on December 8, 1854, in which the Holy Father solemnly declared the Dogma
of the Immaculate Conception. Cf. also R. Rosini, O.F.M., Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, translated by P. Fehlner, F.I., Academy of the
Immaculate, New Bedford, MA, 2008.
10 SK 1318.
11 P. Fehlner, F.I., St. Maximilian Ma. Kolbe, Martyr of Charity – Pneumatologist, (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), pp. 100–101.
12 SK 1286.
13 Cf. A. Dozè, “Le mystère de Saint Joseph révéle a deux femmes: Therèse (d’Avila) et Bernadette”, in Actas simposio de Kevelaer 2005, and St. Peter
Julian Eymard, Month of St. Joseph.
14 It has been claimed that St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe (in the company of St. Francis of Assisi) opened the door to feminist theology by calling the Blessed Virgin Mary both the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit quasi-incarnate. This, however, is absurd, especially if one considers the
premises of feminist theology. Far from promoting femininity, typical feminist thought relies on a revolutionary disjunction between womanhood and motherhood, a unity at the very core of femininity, and a further rejection of the complementarity of the male and female genders altogether: the so-called ideal of “androgyny.” However, it is precisely the unity of womanhood and motherhood that is most perfectly manifested in the virginal maternity of Mary:
Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. The unique spousal union between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit bears the most perfect fruit: the God-man Jesus Christ. Clearly then, the dignity of the Blessed Virgin as Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit quasi-incarnate, as with every Marian dignity, hinges on the divine Maternity. Cf. M. Hauke, God or Goddess?, translated by D. Kipp, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 1995.
15 Some modern Catholic theologians, such as Karl Rahner, have ridiculed the notion of an infinite satisfaction rendered by Christ to the Father for
the sin of man, which was formulated by St. Anselm. Karl Rahner claims that “this theory of satisfaction has become common since the Middle Ages, but it is incomprehensible to our way of thinking” (K. Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, New York 1978). The caricature that is presented of God the Father according to this notion, it is claimed, is that of an angry and bloodthirsty king who demands satisfaction for an insult to his person, and so sends his son to die when he could have simply “forgiven” the wrong done to himself. It is true that redemption was the Father’s initiative, because it is a principle of theology that all initiative in the Blessed Trinity is taken by the Father. However, the caricature provided by Rahner ignores the infinite zeal of God the Father for goodness itself. God the Father cannot simply “ignore” sin as a sinful human might easily do, because it would contradict His infinite zeal for goodness, which is based on Love. Thus, Fr. Joachin Ferrer Arellano notes: “In speaking of this justice of God, one must avoid the risks of using inopportune anthropomorphisms which conceive divine justice in a univocal way with human justice, or still worse, confuse the virtue of justice with juridical legalism. One must not forget that justice exists in God in an eminent way, and that it is infinitely perfect with the fullness of holiness, such that in God ‘justice is based on love, remains in it, and tends to it… Divine justice revealed on the Cross of Christ is the measure of God, because it is born of love and fulfilled in love by begetting the fruits of salvation’ (John Paul II, Dives in misericordia).”
16 J. Ferrer Arellano, “Mystery of Iniquity and Mystery of Godliness. Two Modern Sophisms: Redemption Without Justice and the Immaculate Conception Without Reference to Original Sin,” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross VIII: Coredemption as Key to a Correct Understanding of Redemption, and Recent Attempts to Redefine Redemption Contrary to the Belief of the Church (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2008), pp. 285–350.
17 St. Peter Julian Eymard, Month of St. Joseph, Sentinel Press, New York, NY, 1948.
18 SK 508. Cf. A. Geiger, F.I., “Marian Mediation as Presence and Transubstantiation into the Immaculate,” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross III: Mater Unitatis, Acts of the Third International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2003), pp. 127–171.
19 The title “Virgo Ecclesia Facta,” or Virgin-Made-Church, is applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Francis of Assisi in hisSalute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Cf. J. Schneider, O.F.M., Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), p. 70.
20 SK 508.