Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, succinctly expresses what we mean when we speak of Marian Maximalism. In The Glories of Mary, he makes what he calls a digression, but one of great importance for our subject:

When an opinion tends in any way to the honor of the most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, and is not repugnant to the faith, nor to the decrees of the Church, nor to truth, the refusal to hold it, or to oppose it because the [opposite] may be true, shows little devotion to the Mother of God. Of the number of such as these I do not choose to be, nor do I wish my reader to be, but rather of the number of those who fully and firmly believe all that can without error be believed of the greatness of Mary … .[1]

In what he calls a mere digression, St. Alphonsus provides us with what we may call the principle of Marian Maximalism. In stating this principle, St. Alphonsus is not at all original, nor is his position unique among Mariologists. The principle was widely held at his time, and it has its origin in the Franciscan Bl. John Duns Scotus: “if it is not contrary to the authority of the Church or Sacred Scripture, it seems probable that what is more excellent should be ascribed to Mary.”[2]

Perhaps some of my readers are already familiar with these words of St. Alphonsus. Perhaps you remember the first time you read them and likewise chose to be counted, not among those who have little devotion, but among those who wish to believe firmly and fully all that can be believed about Our Lady without error. At this point, “in the interests of full disclosure” (to use the expression of Dr. Jonathan Fleischmann), I wish to say that I share the sentiment of St. Alphonsus, I choose to be among the number of the Marian Maximalists, and I wish my readers to be Marian Maximalists also.

Having said that, it is nonetheless my goal to pose the question of the foundation on which Marian Maximalism rests. Is there a justification of Marian Maximalism, or is it an exaggeration and excess beyond the boundaries of truth (even if a pious one)? This question is obviously important because the Spirit of Truth guides us into all truth, not outside of it (cf. Jn 16:13). To be led outside the truth is to be led by a spirit other than the Holy Spirit. To excuse exaggerations as being “pious” is no solution to the problem because the error remains. The Fathers, Doctors, Saints, and Popes who are Marian Maximalists are often excused for their “excesses” by alleging inadvertence or involuntary exaggeration. But the principle of Marian Maximalism is either true or false. It either corresponds to the reality about Mary or not. Only if it is true can we embrace it.

Dr. Jonathan Fleischmann, a husband and father of six children, self-professed Marian Maximalist, and associate member of the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, dedicated a book to this question and to the defense of the soundness of the principle of Marian Maximalism.

In his brief but dense book, Dr. Fleischmann takes up the defense of Marian Maximalism by way of applying to Mariology principles and methods from his own areas of expertise (particularly that of mathematical logic) as a professor of engineering and published author and referee of technical articles on the subjects of micromechanics and formal intuitionistic-constructive logic. These fields of study are not at all as dry as they might seem; they are in fact quite useful in the process of obtaining and “understanding of our knowledge” and more importantly our “assent” to conclusions drawn from knowledge.

In this article, I would like to present, elaborate and comment upon some of the more salient points made by Dr. Fleischmann. Because the master is greater than the disciple, I will not be able to go into the same depth as he in illustrating the soundness of Marian Maximalism with the principles of formal logic; also, for the sake of brevity, I will have to limit myself to only a few points.

How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Little? How Much Is Too Much?
What Is the Maximum in Maximalism?

The answer to the question “How much?” in Mariology is not quantifiable. Its parameters are not quantities. The proper parameters of Marian Maximalism are truths revealed by God about Himself and His relationship with His Mother. Its measure is in proportion and harmony with those parameters.

We must therefore situate the answer to this fundamental question in the context of the absolute joint predestination of Our Lord and Our Lady. This joint predestination is both a Franciscan thesis (Bl. John Duns Scotus) and a magisterial teaching (Ineffabilis Deus, Bl. Pius IX, Franciscan tertiary). I would like to remind my readers at this point that I am not necessarily trying to accurately summarize the thought of Dr. Fleischmann, but rather to present its main points while elaborating and commenting.

The thesis of the joint predestination has its most perfect articulation in Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan friar and theologian, the “Subtle Doctor” (d. 1308). It is important that we stop to explain this thesis, the so-called “Franciscan thesis.”[3]

The absolute primacy of Jesus and Mary can be articulated as follows: Christ was the first in the mind of God before the creation of the world. The thought of Christ was “followed” immediately in the mind of God by the thought of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was predestined by God’s eternal decree to be the Mother of Christ.[4]

Jesus and Mary are the paradigms and cause of creation prior (in an ontological sense) to any consideration of sin — either that of Adam and Eve or even of Lucifer himself. They are not caused by anything in creation; they are the cause of creation. Thus, the Incarnation of Jesus cannot be conditioned by the necessity of divine satisfaction for the sin of humankind. The Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity from Mary happens not because of sin (despite sin would perhaps be the more proper expression). In the words of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, “Absolute primacy implies that the Incarnation is in the first instance pure grace, and in no way a necessity, even hypothetical.”[5]

Blessed John Duns Scotus argues that there was no ontological necessity that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, would become Incarnate in order to die for our sins. Rather, according to the Subtle Doctor, the Incarnation of the God-Man Jesus and the Divine Maternity of the Virgin-Mother Mary by one and the same decree of the Eternal Father before the creation of the world and before any prevision of sin was, like the act of creation itself, a totally gratuitous act of Pure Love on the part of God.[6]

(Please keep this nonnecessity of the Incarnation of Jesus from Mary in mind. We cannot deduce the fact of Incarnation, or the Divine Maternity. This fact will reappear at a crucial moment later on).

The first major consequence of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary, crucial for understanding and embracing Marian Maximalism, is that there is no competition between Jesus and Mary (or Mary and the Church) as St. Paul VI teaches.[7] They are predestined by one and the same decree.

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi elaborates, “She was the predestined Mother of Christ, having been predestined before all creatures (cf. Col 1:15, 17), together with Christ, the firstborn of every creature. For Christ had been predestined to be the Son of Mary, just as Mary had been predestined to be the Mother of Christ.”[8] St. Lawrence later continues,

It was from the Child in her womb that Mary received all her glory. He clothed her with the sun, rolled the moon beneath her feet, and set upon her head a crown of twelve stars. The Virgin Mother of God had this glory not from herself, but from God, the Creator of heaven, Who had made the sun, the moon, and the stars. She had her glory from Christ, her Son, through Whom all things, even Mary herself, have been made (cf. Jn 1:3). Christ was not only a son to Mary, but also a father who had created her, and adorned her with every virtue and blessing. He was her Lord, her true and supreme God.[9]

Our Lady does not take anything for herself, nor do we give her anything. God gives her everything. Before even the thought of creating the world, Mary was already willed by God together with Christ as His “worthy mother” (Ineffabilis Deus). God has made her everything she is and has given her everything she has.[10]

Maximalist consequences of joint predestination. According to Fr. Peter Damien Fehlner,

in the words of St. Francis in his antiphon for the Officium Passionis, Mary is absolutely unique; or of St. Bonaventure, an order unto herself: other creatures may be compared and related to her; she, however, in relation to them is incomparable, which is to say in Scotistic terminology she enjoys with her Son an absolute primacy [emphasis added] in the divine counsels of creation because by the grace of the Immaculate Conception she is daughter and handmaid of the Father, thus capable of being Mother of the Son and Coredemptrix, or still more succinctly, a “quasi-part” of the Trinity, as it were within the circle of triune love as spouse of the Holy Spirit, making it possible therefore for all her children to be so also. Hence, according to St. Maximilian, paraphrased in the terminology of the Seraphic Doctor, of all the creatures prope Deum [near to God], Mary in virtue of the Immaculate Conception is propinquissima [nearest] incomparably and so absolutely, associated with Christ in the order of his absolute primacy and so capable of being His Mother in the strictest sense.[11]

The sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian and Mariologist, Francisco Suarez, expressed Our Lady’s unique relationship with Christ by saying that she “belongs in a certain way to the order of hypostatic union.”[12] This is equivalent to saying what was said above by St. Bonaventure, namely that, among human creatures, she is an order unto herself. No other human being relates to Christ as a member of the hypostatic union.

Father Cyril Vollert clearly explains this teaching:

Order is a union of elements internally dependent among themselves and finalized by a common end. The universe of creatures is divided into three great orders, according to their relationship with God. The order of nature comprises creatures regarded as effects of God, made to His image and gathered together in a harmonious world the better to resemble Him. The order of grace consists of spiritual creatures who are united to God by supernatural knowledge and charity. At the summit is the hypostatic order, in which a created nature is taken into personal union with God; it is the order of the Incarnate Word and draws to itself the orders of nature and of grace.

God’s election of Mary to be the Mother of His Son is the basis for the doctrine, common among theologians as a definitive acquisition of modern Mariology, that the Blessed Virgin belongs intrinsically to the hypostatic order, whose elements are finalized by the hypostatic union, God’s greatest communication to created nature. From all eternity she is joined to the Incarnate Word in one and the same decree of predestination. She is not substantially united to a divine Person; yet the hypostatic union between Christ’s human nature and the Person of the Word was accomplished through her and in her.[13] The Son of God is her Son; she has a relationship of real affinity with the Second Person of the Trinity. Accordingly, her divine motherhood elevates her to the hypostatic order, along with the human nature of the Word, above the entire universe of nature and the world of grace.

Since the order of nature is wholly orientated to the order of grace, and the order of grace is wholly orientated to the hypostatic order, these two orders must have their summit and find their end in those who occupy the hypostatic order, that is, in Jesus Christ and His Mother. The hypostatic order is indeed for the redemption of the human race, in the sense that all men are its beneficiaries; but it is also the end of redemption. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin, who belongs to this order, has a redemptive causality; but she also shares in redemptive finality. In a very true sense the universe, and particularly the Church of the redeemed, which is ordained to Christ, is likewise ordained to Mary.[14]

Jesus and Mary are not caused by anything in creation (e.g., sin); they are together the cause of creation.

How much does Christ give to His Mother exactly? According to Dr. Fleischmann, “In his outline of Mariology ad mentem Scoti based on the absolute joint predestination of Jesus and Mary, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner explains that while ‘the “primary principle” of Mariology is the virginal divine and spiritual Maternity’[15] in the order of divine intention, the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is the primary principle of Mariology in the order of divine execution, which is “subordinate to that of the order of intention or predestination. [To quote the classical Aristotelian axiom: ‘What is first in intention is last in execution’[16]]. However, in divine execution, ‘how much’ grace did Mary receive?”[17]

Now we are rapidly approaching the answer to our question: “How much is enough? What is the maximum?”

Dr. Fleischmann continues: “The angel Gabriel addressed Mary: ‘Hail, full of grace’ (Lk 1:28). Thus, we know on Scriptural authority that Mary’s grace is maximal. What does this maximality of grace entail?”[18] Fr. Ruggero Rosini asks this question another way:

In a certain sense, an exchange of gifts is verified between Christ and Mary: the Son gives divine grace to His Mother; the Mother gives her human nature to the Son. Two “gifts,” both perfect in their kind. …

It is a truth of Faith that Mary transmitted her own nature to the Son in its “totality”; but did Jesus transfuse into His Mother the “totality” of His grace? Can this be maintained, if not in the full sense, at least in a certain sense? In other words, can we believe that that grace which, according to the expression of Scotus, was granted to Christ by God “without measure,” was in turn also transmitted from the Son to the Mother “without measure,” therefore in its “totality?”[19]

The answer to his question is a resounding yes.[20]

Christ’s transmission to His Blessed Mother of the totality of His grace deserves a closer examination and an explanation, because it too is a concept crucial to understanding and embracing Marian Maximalism.

Here we must briefly present a principle of Christology essential to correctly understanding this question.[21]

The uncreated grace of the hypostatic union (union of human nature with the Divine in the one Divine Person of the Word) did not formally sanctify Christ’s humanity, but only in a causal, virtual, radical manner. The reason is that the Divinity cannot be an intrinsic form of humanity, since there is a disproportion between that which is formally infinite and that which is formally finite. Although in virtue of the hypostatic union Our Lord as man does in a certain sense share in the infinite holiness of God (substantial grace), nonetheless the sanctifying grace He possesses as man (capital grace) is not metaphysically infinite. Uncreated grace cannot formally sanctify created humanity; it must do so via created grace (i.e., sanctifying grace, which is essentially the same in Our Lady as in Christ, with differences that we will see below). The hypostatic union did not alter the human nature of Christ or “meld it” with the Divine. Human nature, including the Most Sacred Humanity of Our Lord, is incapable of containing infinite perfections. Bl. John Duns Scotus states succinctly, “Being united to the Word says about the human nature of Christ only that it has a special dependence on the Word; since, therefore, the human nature in Christ remains such under all aspects, it remains such also regarding its capacity” (Ox. l. 3, d. 13, q. 4,  n. 10,  tom. 14, 464).[22]

Even though the sanctifying grace possessed by Our Lord’s humanity is not formally or metaphysically infinite, we can nonetheless call it infinite in a relative or mathematical sense. Fr. Ruggero Rosini states: “Our Doctor objects that every intelligent being, man or angel, by his very nature has the capacity to receive any degree of grace, even were it an infinite degree. And this infinite receptive capacity he attributes to the divine image existing within these intellectual creatures, including Christ.”[23] We must understand “infinite” here in the sense of an “incommensurate” infinity, in other words, an “infinity” greater than that which is possessed by any other human nature. (Infinity in the mathematical sense signifies that there is no bijective correlation between two sets, as Fleischmann explains. Without going into the exact mathematical set theory definition of infinity, let it suffice here to illustrate this point by the fact that, in mathematics, one infinity can be smaller or larger than another.)[24] “Since grace is specifically the same in all intellectual beings: therefore, even in [the sacred humanity of] Christ, it follows that all of them have the same passive potential in this regard.”[25] Since Christ and Mary have the same human nature (it is a truth of Faith that Mary transmitted her own nature to the Son in its “totality”), they both have the same capacity for receiving incommensurate (or infinite) degrees of grace.[26]

When using the term “infinity” in the mathematical sense, we can and must speak of relative infinities, greater or lesser when compared with one another. Although Jesus gives to Mary the totality of His grace, and both Jesus and Mary possess “infinite” grace, Fr. Rosini nonetheless points out,

One cannot say that the two “fullnesses” of grace, that of Christ and Mary, are equal, viz., upon the same level of nature and origin. No! These are on diverse levels.

Seen in relation to nature, the “fullness” in Christ is absolute, while the “fullness” in Mary is relative; His is natural, hers is participated. Seen in relation to their origin, the “fullness” of Christ is immediately from God, whereas the “fullness” of Mary is immediately from Christ; therefore … Christ presents himself to us as the absolute, natural Mediator; Mary as a relative, moral Mediatrix.

From this it is clear that as much as one might possibly desire to accentuate Mary’s “fullness” of “participated” grace, one could never even minimally compromise Christ’s “natural” fullness. Rather, by exalting the dignity of the Mother, one shall exalt all the more the dignity of the Son! Standing by [these] principles, therefore, there are no insoluble difficulties opposed to the “total” transmission of Christ’s grace into Mary.[27]

Dr. Fleischmann writes, “It is a case of ‘relative infinities.’ As such, the merits obtained by Jesus and Mary are incommensurate in value with the merit obtained by any other person, but they are also incommensurate with each other, the merit of Jesus Christ being incomparably greater than that of Mary because He is God.”[28]

Applying the mathematical-relational-relative concept of infinity, Dr. Jonathan Fleischmann quotes the Bishop and Doctor St. Anselm: “‘Mary has a glory greater than which none can be imagined, except for God’s.’ Indeed, the same maximal principle is found in Lumen Gentium, where we read that Mary ‘occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ.’”[29]

Christ gave Mary everything that was His because she gave Him everything that was hers: an exchange of gifts. Because of her Divine Maternity, He has made her full of grace to an incommensurate, or infinite, degree. Thus, infinity becomes the necessary measuring stick of the maximum in maximalism.

Therefore, Mary’s glory must be unutterable: de Maria numquam satis. We cannot ever say “enough” or “too much” about Mary: the closer we place her to God, the closer we are to the truth about her, not to excess. Because Mary’s glory is truly unutterable, it is impossible to concretely limit it in any way, beyond saying precisely that she is “not God,” without making her glory less than what it actually is (which is what God made it, and what He wanted it to be from eternity). Hence, with perfect accuracy and objectivity (and no pious exaggeration!), we may proclaim the concise Marian maximal principle with all the saints in glory: De Maria numquam satis — About Mary we can never say enough![30]

Definition of Maximalism

We began with a fundamental principle of Marian Maximalism, now we move closer towards what we might call a definition. Dr. Fleischmann points out that Lumen Gentium 67 cautions the clergy and laity against false exaggerations, which are, by definition, not truly Marian. We will never commit the sin of “false exaggeration” in our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so long as we never separate the Virgin-Mother Mary from the God-Man Jesus Christ; that is, so long as we see Mary as God Himself sees her and see all of Mary’s glories as flowing to her from Christ, the one Mediator. To desire autonomy from God — either for our Heavenly Mother or for ourselves — is the very antithesis of what it means to be truly Marian.[31] It is in fact this autonomy from God that Marian minimalists desire. For this reason, they viciously attack the Woman who is most closely united to Him, and her offspring, united to her.

“In fact, the desire to make the Blessed Virgin Mary autonomous, or independent of Christ, does not give her more glory, but less, because nearness to Christ, who is God-in-Person, is the very definition of Mary’s glory! Mary’s glory is like the ultimate ‘limit ordinal,’ greater than which none can be imagined, except for God’s.”[32]

Separating her from Christ, setting her as an opponent of Christ, taking and attributing to her what Christ never gave to her, this would be “too much” — not by the fact of quantity but by the fact of it not being given in reality; and this would be an error. Who makes such an error, I do not know. Many a renowned theologian has asked himself where, if at all, such excesses can actually be found.[33] The precaution seems like a straw man endlessly propped up and knocked down by Marian minimalists. However, separating Mary from Christ, setting Christ in opposition to her, refusing to attribute to her what Christ has given her, this would be “little,” and it too would be an error.

Marian Maximalism, if we may attempt a kind of definition, is the acknowledgment of the totality of grace given to Mary by God — Mary’s place given her by God — highest after Christ yet at the same time together with Christ; an acknowledgement of her sharing in all that is His, insofar as she is able as a creature and as a woman; an acknowledgement of her place infinitely high like Christ, infinitely higher than us, an order unto herself, higher than any other that can be imagined except God’s. That is the maximum and only that is enough.

Marian Maximalism is not based on preferences; it is based on an objective, divinely ordained and executed reality.

Proof, the Illative Sense, and the Certainty of Marian Maximalism

We now know what Marian Maximalism is, but by clarifying the notion, have we proved it? In the concluding pages of his book, Dr. Fleischmann poses the fundamental question about the nature of proof. I will elaborate on this question by first considering the notion of the illative sense as taught by St. John Henry Newman.

There are relatively few truths about Our Lady which have been infallibly settled by the Magisterium of the Church, either dogmatically (four, currently) or by universal ordinary Magisterium (for example the Spiritual Maternity, Universal Mediation of Grace, and others). Their proof is the infallible teaching authority of the Church. All Catholics must believe these truths about Mary.[34] Now, the realm of Marian Maximalism concerns not the truths that have been taught infallibly, because it is assumed that Marian maximalists, minimalists, and those who want to fall in-between all assent to these.[35] The proper realm of Marian Maximalism is rather those propositions that are still subject to research and debate.

Many questions of Mariology fall into this category and remain disputed (and I use the word “disputed” in the sense it has within theology). For example, the fact of Our Lady’s unique participation with Our Lord in the work of the Redemption is indisputable.[36] Theology aptly calls this unique cooperation by the term “Coredemption.” The degree and extent that Our Lady, as Coredemptrix, shared in the knowledge which the Redeemer possessed, however — knowledge of who was being redeemed and from what each and every person was being redeemed — is neither revealed directly, nor is it defined magisterially; hence it may be disputed within the parameters that theology allows.[37] And it is for the purpose of settling such disputed questions of Mariology that the original principle of Marian Maximalism must be invoked: “if it is not contrary to the authority of the Church or Sacred Scripture, it seems probable that what is more excellent should be ascribed to Mary.”[38]

But the question of actually proving this principle finally arises. We may ask ourselves, as did Bl. John Duns Scotus: it is certainly possible for God to act in this or that way towards His Mother (potuit), but did He actually do it (fecit)?[39] Certainly there is nothing contrary to Scripture or Church teaching in the Franciscan thesis of the joint predestination of Jesus and Mary before the prevision of sin; quite the contrary, the Magisterium favors this position. Neither is there anything contrary to Scripture or Church teaching in the theological conclusion of total transmission of grace by Jesus to His Mother; nor is there anything contrary in the conclusion (nor in all the corollaries of this conclusion) that she is an order unto herself, a part of the hypostatic union. There is nothing contrary to Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium, or Reason in any of the currently magisterially undefined and still disputed conclusions that a Marian Maximalist holds. But are all these positions true?  Did God actually and in reality grant all these graces to his Mother?  No a priori reasoning necessitates it. No magisterial definition settles it. Between the potuit and the fecit there is an essential premise which is the decuit; this decuit, or fittingness, must be properly understood.

Decuit. Fittingness is a key to understanding Marian Maximalism; and a key to understanding fittingness as a rigorous premise that allows for a certain conclusion is the notion of the illative sense, which will be discussed in the following section.

Mere lack of contradiction is not enough to constitute a proof of the kind we are looking for. The fact that a statement does not contradict Scripture or Church teaching is not a proof of it being true. Noncontradiction expresses the mere potuit. Mere logic, however, can go no further than the potuit.[40]

Once again, it is certainly possible for God to act in this or that way towards His Mother (potuit), but did He actually do it (fecit)? How can we come to any certain conclusion when no a priori reasoning necessitates it and the magisterium does not settle it? Fr. Peter Fehlner posits, “It is not our judgment or reflective process that unites the potuit to the fecit by way of the decuit. It is rather the antecedent judgment of the teacher [Christ] who reveals that establishes the juncture, and so constitutes a viable intellectual analogy, a kind of mirror that truly reflects the divine in an intelligible way. Our theological activity, except in a very improper sense, is not an evaluation of evidence, but an effort in the Spirit to perceive the harmony and proportions reflected in that mirror.”[41]

Marian Maximalism must be built not on a negative premise of mere noncontradiction but on the positive premise of fittingness, proportion, and harmony with the revelation of Christ; in this sense Mariology is the “crossroads” of all of theology, of all we know about God. Only this consideration allows us to safely draw conclusions that are sound.

The statement decuit, or the certainty of the fittingness of a given maximalist conclusion in the realm of Mariology, cannot be an a priori, logically necessary conclusion of our own mind. Our Lady’s glory is not a concession of logic or reason (as if we were conceding to Our Lady the glory our reason shows she must have by logical deduction). Decuit, or fittingness, depends not on logic alone but on a free decision of pure love. Anything we say about Our Lady must “fit” with how God has acted towards His Mother, considering first of all her Divine Maternity and fullness of grace, as well as the rest of God’s revealed actions, drawing conclusions that are truly fitting, proportionate, and harmonious (decuit).[42]

Something could be free from logical contradiction and yet not correspond to reality. A syllogism could be valid but not sound. Fittingness can be claimed only if there is both freedom from contradiction in reference to pure logic as well as in reference to everything else God has revealed to us about Himself.[43] We know by faith that God has indeed chosen to be born of a Woman and endowed her with the fullness of grace, elevating her above every other creature by making her His worthy Mother, lower only than God Himself. For their conclusions to be fitting, any remaining debatable and debated questions must be settled in a manner coherent with this fact.[44]

The illative sense. The illative sense is essential to ascertaining the agreement of any maximalist conclusion with the rest of God’s revelation and hence for grasping the fittingness of Marian Maximalism.

Saint John Henry Newman teaches the meaning of the illative sense in this way:

I may have evidence so strong that I may see it is my duty to give my absolute assent to it. I have not absolute demonstration that my father was not a murderer or my intimate friend a sharper, but it would not only be heartless, but irrational not to disbelieve these hypotheses or possibilities utterly — and, anyhow, in matter of fact men generally do disbelieve them absolutely — and therefore the Church, as the Minister of God, asks us for nothing more in things supernatural than common sense, as nature asks of us in matters of this world. … Try to analyze the reasons why one believes in the United States. We not only do not, but we could not make a demonstration; yet we assent absolutely.[45]

Father Thomas Dubay distills Newman’s teaching for us into even simpler terms:

There is a great deal in human life that we know with certitude but with no direct experience and no inner necessity. For example, I know that Istanbul is a city in Turkey, even though I have never been there and the concept has no necessary inner light to it. I am sure of this city’s existence because of a convergence of independent evidences. I have seen it indicated in geography books and on road maps. I have noted it perhaps in airline timetables and travel advertising. I may have a friend who lives in Istanbul and sends me letters with the city postmark upon them, and my letters in return reach their destination when so marked. I have heard television news broadcasts and read newspaper and magazine articles dealing with the city. There is no possible explanation for this agreement of independent evidences but the sheer fact that the city does exist. Even though I cannot prove each bit of evidence, all these independent and unrelated reasons taken together so reinforce one another that the conclusion could not be mistaken. Doubt is baseless and foolish. My mind has the ability to grasp the whole of the situation and to perceive the necessity to which the agreements point.

[Father] Martin D’Arcy rightly speaks therefore of “a certitude for which we cannot set down the evidence, for the reason that the evidence is too vast, too infinite to be itemized … a conspiracy of infinite evidence saying the same thing.”[46]

We can now apply the notion of the illative sense and its operation to Mariology. We will take a sort of step back, and, as an example, we will see how fittingness was applied by Scotus to give certainty to the conclusion that Our Lady was immaculately conceived. Dr. Fleischmann quotes Fr. Rosini:

“Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit” … In its structure it expresses an argument of “fittingness,” which is misunderstood by some. Certainly, we cannot a priori know the mind of God; we can, however, know it a posteriori. For this reason, according to Scotus, God is a priori perfectly free to choose among all women the one who will be His Mother. But once chosen, therefore a posteriori, He is not perfectly free toward her. In relation to her He contracts certain duties, as every child does toward his mother (the fourth commandment “Honor…” also applies here). Here emerges the argument of Scotus: the maximum dishonor for a creature consists in the contraction of original sin, from which comes the greatest offense to God, by reason of which “no one perfectly satisfies for anyone, unless He can prevent the offense, if possible” (Elementa, 48). And this offense Christ could prevent (“potuit,” Scotus insists, Elementa, 28. 213. 216), preserving that person precisely from original sin (Elementa, 24). And logically, were there a creature [to] whom Christ “must” concede such a privilege, this would be His Mother: “this (exemption) was fitting precisely for Christ’s Mother” (Elementa, 211). “Therefore… He did it.” For this reason, “if Christ is the most perfect Mediator,” He is such because “He has prevented all offense in His Mother” (Elementa, 48).[47]

Once God has chosen to act, He is no longer free nor are we free; we must view the rest of God’s actions in harmony and proportion to that choice. For example, the total transmission of grace cannot be inferred a priori by logical necessity, nor by magisterial teaching; yet it can be known with certainty by the illative sense: all the concurring evidences give us nothing less than certainty that it was indeed fitting. Hypothetically (potuit) God could do many things, and hypothetically He could do for His Mother that which is less perfect, less excellent. That hypothesis could appear to have some possibility to it if we proceeded by mere logic, since it contains nothing logically contradictory; hence it would appear that it may be true. However we do know that God has never acted this way in regards to His Mother. He made her His worthy Mother and full of grace. Every subsequent conclusion must be in harmony and proportion with these two principal truths: joint predestination or absolute primacy (Divine Maternity) and fullness of grace (Immaculate Conception), as well as every other truth we can hold with certainty: Mary’s Spiritual Maternity, her Universal Mediation of Grace, her Coredemption, and perfect association in the work of the Redeemer.

Back to St. Alphonsus: In the case of disputed questions in Mariology, when concluding in a maximalist way, hypothetically “the opposite may be true” in the sense of being noncontradictory, but it would be foolish to think it is true. “Of the number of such as these I do not choose to be, nor do I wish my reader to be.”[48] The evidence is too vast, too infinite to be itemized … a conspiracy of infinite evidence saying the same thing: the Blessed Virgin Mary “shines with a purity greater than which none can be imagined, except for God’s” (St. Anselm). Indeed, the same maximal principle is found in Lumen Gentium, where we read that Mary “occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ.”[49] What God has united, let no man separate (Mt 19:6).

Yes, by mere logic, the opposite may be true, but as Newman says, “It would not only be heartless, but irrational not to disbelieve these [minimalist] hypotheses or possibilities utterly.”

Assent. Have we proven anything so far? Are we compelled to conclude that the principle of Marian Maximalism is true? After all, pure logic allows us to think that the opposite may still be true.

Saint John Henry Newman emphatically distinguishes inference from assent.[50]

Assent is not only an operation of the mind but also of the will. We know very well from personal experience that our minds can be perfectly convinced and sure of a truth, to which, at the same time, our wills refuse to assent. Both the potuit and the decuit can be certain, and yet a person can refuse to assent. In theology, we call such cases “dissent.”

Dr. Fleischmann acknowledges that “[t]his act of assent, which must be taken every time the proof is read or the theory is applied, always depends on the will of the individual, and it is always formally distinct from the method of proof or the logical reasoning preceding it.”[51] Assent of faith is a work of grace which inclines our will to make a decision. Being a work of faith, it requires grace, and for this grace we must pray: “Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin.”

But our wills are always free to resist and can indeed resist grace. I say we can, which does not mean we may. It is an inherent flaw of our created free will to be able to defect from choosing the true and the good. We can do it, even if we shouldn’t; hence we may not morally do it. The final question that divides the Marian Maximalists from the minimalists is a question not of the intellect, but of the will, not of knowledge but of assent to it; it is always a question, since the initial test of the angels until today, of saying serviam or non serviam to the truth.


Mary wanted God to be great in the world, great in her life and present among us all. She was not afraid that God might be a “rival” in our life, that with his greatness he might encroach on our freedom, our vital space. She knew that if God is great, we too are great. Our life is not oppressed but raised and expanded: it is precisely then that it becomes great in the splendor of God. …

Only if God is great is humankind also great. With Mary, we must begin to understand that this is so. We must not drift away from God but make God present; we must ensure that he is great in our lives. Thus, we too will become divine; all the splendor of the divine dignity will then be ours.

— Pope Benedict XVI,
15 Aug 2005 (emphasis added)

There is no competition between God and Mary. Mary wanted God to be great and He made her great. Now we see that Marian Maximalism is necessarily Divine Maximalism as well.

The greatness of Mary is truly such that none greater can be imagined except for that of God Himself. But it is a greatness she received. She does not take it, she receives it. Marian Maximalism is the recognition of a total, utter, and liberating dependence on God, before Whom we need not fear to bow, because He only elevates us and frees us from our lowliness. Only this makes Mary great; only this makes us great.

To desire autonomy from God is the very antithesis of what it means to be truly Marian.[52] To oppose God against His Mother does not give Him glory. It does not make Him any greater. It makes neither us nor Our Lady great; it only destroys. It is therefore not God’s honor and glory that Marian minimalists desire; it is rather this autonomy from God, non serviam — deceptive, destructive, diabolical — it is this that intentional Marian minimalists seem to desire. “Of the number of such as these I do not wish to be, nor do I wish my reader to be.”[53] [54]



[1]     Alphonsus of Liguiri, Glories of Mary, chap. 5, sec. 1 (emphasis added).


[2]     Bl. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio 3, d. 3, q. 1, n. 10.


[3]     Summarized based on Jonathan Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2016), 36, 85–86.


[4]     Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 36.


[5]     Fr. Peter Damien M. Fehlner, FI, “Coredemption and the Assumption in the Franciscan School of Mariology: The ‘Franciscan Thesis’ as Key” in Studies in Honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, ed. Fr. Peter Damien M. Fehlner (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2013), 1:200. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 85.


[6]     Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism,


[7]     Cf. Beatification Homily of Maximilian Kolbe, 17 Oct 1971, quoted in Fleischmann, 32.


[8]     St. Lawrence of Brindisi, sermon 2 [originally published in Mariale, vol. 1 of Opera Omnia (Padua: Seminary Press, 1928)], trans. Eliot Timlin, OFM Cap. as “On the Nobility of the Virgin Mother of God,” Round Table of Franciscan Research 17 (1952), 72, quoted in Stanley Gahan, OFM Cap., “ ‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’ According to St. Lawrence of Brindisi,” The American Ecclesiastical Review 147, no. 6 (Dec 1962): 399.


[9]     St. Lawrence of Brindisi, sermon 6 [originally published in Mariale, vol. 1 of Opera Omnia (Padua: Seminary Press, 1928)], trans. Vernon Wagner, OFM Cap. as “The Sorrows of the Virgin Mother of God,” Round Table of Franciscan Research 18 (1953), 73–74, quoted in Stanley Gahan, OFM Cap., “ ‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’ According to St. Lawrence of Brindisi,” The American Ecclesiastical Review 147, no. 6 (Dec 1962): 401–2.


[10]    A mentality that sees Mary as competing with Christ is nonetheless very present in the Church today, a consequence of concupiscence to some extent, exacerbated by the sentiment of Marxist “class struggle” disseminated widely even within the Church. This constitutes one of the bigger obstacles to understanding and embracing Marian Maximalism. I reiterate that there is no competition or “taking” (class struggle). We are not taking anything from one in order to give something to the other: we are acknowledging what has already been given regardless of us, our actions, our sins, our merits, our opinion.


[11]    Fr. Peter Damien Ma. Fehlner, FI, St. Maximilian Kolbe: Martyr of Charity — Pneumatolgist (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2004), 52. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 39.


[12]    Fleischmann, 21.


[13]    She “makes the Mediator”; she joins Man to God, and Head to Body.


[14]    Cyril Vollert “The Mary-Church Analogy in its Relationship to the Fundamental Principle of Mariology,” Marian Studies 9 (22 Jan 1958): 125–26,; emphasis added.


[15]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 74.


[16]    Fleischmann, 36.


[17]    Fleischmann, 74.


[18]    Fleischmann, 74.


[19]    Fr. Ruggero Rosini, OFM, Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, trans. Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, ed. Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2008): 59.


[20]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 75.


[21]    The explanation which follows is taken from Minges OFM, Fr. Parthenius, Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticae Specialis, pars prior; Ratisbonae 19212, p. 287-290 (my translation).


[22]    Scotus, Ordinatio 3, d. 13, q. 4, n. 10. I would like to point out here that the Mariological position that Our Lady was “full of grace” in the sense of receiving the totality of Christ’s grace, forces us to affirm the reality and identity of Christ’s human nature with that of Mary and with us. This affirmation saves us from the heresy of monophysitism, which would say Christ’s human nature was altered, absorbed, modified, united, adulterated by its union with the Divine.


[23]    Rosini, Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, 60. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 75.


[24]    Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 83-84.


[25]    Rosini, 60.


[26]    Rosini, 59. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 75-76.


[27]    Rosini, Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, 62. Cf. Fleischmann 75-76.


[28]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 83.


[29]    Fleischmann, 53.


[30]    Fleischmann, 60.


[31]    Cf. Fleischmann, 190, note 379.


[32]    Fleischmann, 187.


[33]    “When has a Catholic theologian or preacher ever, in the past or present, taught that Mary is equal to her Son? Can one reasonably fear that in the future Catholic theologians and preachers will have the temerity to teach something so absurd? Why, therefore, should one advise them to cast off such an excess, when they are already so far from it?” Fr. Aniceto Fernandez, OP [then Master General of the Order of Preachers], as quoted by Fr. Alessandro M. Apollonio, FI, “Mary Coredemptress: Mother of Unity — A probing glance at the hidden face of Vatican Council II” 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): 349–50. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 33.


[34]    John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio, Ad Tuendam Fidem (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 18 May 1998).


[35]    It goes beyond the scope of this presentation to analyze the current state of Mariology, but suffice it to say that the sad reality is quite different: many Catholics do not acknowledge even infallible truths about Our Lady. For a detailed analysis of the crisis of faith in the virgin birth, see Polis, Fr. John Lawrence M. FI, The Virgin Shall Give Birth, New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2022.


[36]    It would also be outside the scope of this talk to consider at length the arguments in favor of this teaching; for the sake of brevity, let is suffice to point out to the reader that the doctrine of the Coredemption is so certain that theologians consider it a doctrina proxima fidei, i.e. a teaching that could be immediately defined as dogma.


[37]    Cf. Fr. Bertrand de Margerie, SJ, “The Knowledge of Mary and the Sacrifice of Jesus” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross — I: Millenium with Mary; Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2001).


[38]    Scotus, Ordinatio 3, d. 3, q. 1, n. 34.


[39]    We must take for granted familiarity with the “syllogism” potuit, decuit, ergo fecit. Here let it suffice to merely point out that potuit implies God’s absolute power; decuit the fittingness of using that absolute power in a specific manner; and fecit the conclusion that God has indeed used it in that particular way.


[40]    Logic can tell us that a maximalist proposition possesses some truth value (i.e., it is not contradictory, but it cannot indicate that value [true or false]).


[41]    Peter Damien Fehlner, “Mary and Theology: Scotus Revisited” in Newman-Scotus Reader: Contexts and Commonalities, ed. Edward J. Ondrako, OFMConv. (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015), 163.


[42]    Earlier in this talk we saw how for Bl. John Duns Scotus the absolute joint predestination of Jesus and Mary are not due to any necessity but rather to pure love (see “How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Little? How Much Is Too Much? What Is the Maximum in Maximalism?”).


[43]    It is Marian minimalism which is in such contradiction with the manner of God’s acting towards His Mother.


[44]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 72. In other words: if there is no logical contradiction, and there is instead harmony and proportion with the rest of God’s revelation, with everything else God has revealed to us about Himself, His Mother and His relationship to her, then we can apply decuit; if no such harmony or proportion exists, then non decuit, ergo non fecit.


[45]    Newman to William Robert Brownlow, 29 Apr 1871 in Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, eds. C. S. Dessain and E. E. Kelly (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 25:324 in Thomas Dubay, SM, Faith and Certitude (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 111–12.


[46]    Thomas Dubay, SM, Faith and Certitude (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 112–13; Martin D’Arcy, The Nature of Belief (St. Louis: Herder, 1958), 174, 192, quoted in Dubay, Faith and Certitude, 113.


[47]    Rosini, Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus, 76, note 16. Cf. Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 68-69.


[48]    Alphonsus of Liguiri, Glories of Mary, chap. 5, sec. 1.


[49]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 53.


[50]    “I lay it down, then, as a principle that either assent is intrinsically distinct from inference, or the sooner we get rid of the word in philosophy the better. If it be only the echo of an inference, do not treat it as a substantive act; but on the other hand, supposing it be not such an idle repetition, as I am sure it is not, — supposing the word ‘assent’ does hold a rightful place in language and in thought, — if it does not admit of being confused with concluding and inferring, — if the two words are used for two operations of the intellect which cannot change their character, — if in matter of fact they are not always found together, — if they do not vary with each other, — if one is sometimes found without the other, — if one is strong when the other is weak, — if sometimes they seem even in conflict with each other, — then, since we know perfectly well what an inference is, it comes upon us to consider what, as distinct from inference, an assent is, and we are, by the very fact of its being distinct, advanced one step towards that account of it which I think is the true one.” John Henry Newman, An Essay in aid of a Grammar of Assent, (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903: 166. Cf. Fleischmann, 182–83.


[51]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 182.


[52]    Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 190, note 379.


[53]    Alphonsus of Liguiri, Glories of Mary, chap. 5, sec. 1.


[54]    Pope Benedict XVI: “Conversely: only when it touches Mary and becomes Mariology is Christology itself as radical as the faith of the Church requires. The appearance of a truly Marian awareness serves as the touchstone indicating whether or not the Christological substance is fully present. Nestorianism involves the fabrication of a Christology from which the nativity and the Mother are removed, a Christology without Mariological consequences. Precisely this operation, which surgically removes God so far from man that nativity and maternity — all of corporeality — remain in a different sphere, indicated unambiguously to the Christian consciousness that the discussion no longer concerned Incarnation (becoming flesh), that the center of Christ’s mystery was endangered, if not already destroyed. Thus in Mariology Christology was defended. Far from belittling Christology, it signifies the comprehensive triumph of a confession of faith in Christ which has achieved authenticity.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief, trans. John M. McDermott, SJ (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1983): 35–36.Cf. Fleischmann, 91.