Those who have persevered thus far in following the arguments of Father Peter Damian Fehlner regarding the mystery of Mary Coredemptrix as the Marian issue in the Church today will recognize that his arguments are subtle,[1] insightful and profound, while exposing the flaws of much contemporary thinking. I have striven thus far to provide some context for his arguments since, as one of his students put it, he often assumed that his hearers knew all the references that he did.

We pick up his argument again with this assertion:

Therefore, it is not at all true that we can ever conceive mentally, or much less effectively realize the maximal praise due the Mother of God from the Church on objective grounds, because she is the incomparable Immaculate, whom God alone can fully grasp (cf. Bl. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).[2] Hence, we can never match the praise her own Son bestows on His Mother. That praise reflects the mystery of the virginal Maternity summarized by the Seraphic Doctor[3] thus: non decebat Virginem habere Filium nisi Deum, nec Deum habere Matrem nisi Virginem (Collationes in septem Donis Spiritus Sancti, c. 6, n. 4: it was not fitting that the Virgin should have a Son unless God, nor God have a Mother unless the Virgin). This explains why Bonaventure also says (in the same distinction where he criticizes an abusive maximalizing: Mariae nemo nimis potest esse devotus (III Sent., d. 3, p. 1, a. 1, q. 4, ad 4),[4] why Scotus insists (III Sent., d. 3, q. 1, n. 10) that the surpassing excellence of the mystery of Mary requires absolutely ascribing to her whatever is objectively more excellent[5] (the quasi-infinite of St. Thomas in describing the maximal perfection of the divine Maternity[6]). St. Francis tells us why he surrounded with indescribable praises the Mother of God who made the Lord of majesty our brother (cf. St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, 3, 1; 7, 1; 9, 3;[7] II Celano 198). Here is St. Francis himself speaking: non est tibi similis nata in mundo in mulieribus (Antiphon, Officium Passionis: there is none like you born in the world among women).[8] The happy mean between abusive maximizing and minimizing of Mary might better be stated thus: minimizing is always wrong, false maximizing is always wrong, but maximizing after the fashion of St. Francis and Bl. John Duns Scotus is to be commended.[9]

The Church with every believer must outdo herself in praising Mary with Christ. Not to do so is to begin to fall into ruin. What the presentations here have made clear is that the mystery of the coredemption belongs to that order of objective perfections constituting the incomparable (St. Francis), quasi-infinite (St. Thomas) beauty of Mary Immaculate. Not to confess this at a time when the Church appears paralysed by the momentary triumph of secularism to my way of thinking is the height of foolishness. And the profoundly learned overviews of the doctrinal issue presented by highly qualified prelates and theologians in this symposium make it clear beyond any doubt, that acknowledging the Immaculate Virgin as the Mother Coredemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces is not an exercise in pious fantasy, but is based on revealed fact: this is an integral part of that maximal perfection-purity willed by the Father for the Mother of his Son and of the Church redeemed in His blood, freed precisely via the preservative redemption of that Mother.[10]

Father Peter Damian continues:

Even if this mystery is not a solemnly defined dogma, its truth as a component of the deposit of faith, to be assented to with firm faith by every believer, is beyond question: if not an article of faith modo definitivo, it surely is that of a truth definitive tenenda (Cf. recent revision of Canon 1364 of the Code of Canon Law), and so in the true sense is proxima fidei, or definable.[11] It is, therefore, a startling oddity that for nearly half a century, despite solemn counsels from the highest ecclesiastical authority about never garnishing truths of faith for the sake of ecumenical dialogue (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 67), Marian truths, this one in particular, have been down-played or silenced.

Of a mystery so central both to the birth of the Saviour and to the consummation of His mission on Calvary and to its continuance in the Church as is the maternal mediation of the Virgin Mother there can hardly be a long-term reason justifying silence. We must say here what Sts. Peter and John replied to the rulers of the Jews who ordered them to be silent about “that man, the son of Mary”: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). What we have heard both of the birth and of the death and resurrection cannot be proclaimed apart from Mary. The ultimate sign, on earth and in the heavens, of our Saviour and salvation is the Virgin Mother (cf. Is. 7:14).

But it is even more than strange to encounter theologians, even in high places in the Church, 1) who cast doubt not only on the fitting character of a solemn definition of this mystery, but on the validity both of the title and of the doctrine that title has connoted for over half a millennium, or 2) who insinuate, if not expressly affirm, that the content either a) was not easily recognizable under earlier titles, viz., from apostolic times, such as the Eve-Mary typology, or b) that the distinction “objective-subjective redemption” was unknown before Scheeben’s use of it in the 19th century. Indeed, it was already in use (c. 1640) by the 17th century Neapolitan Scotist, Fr. Angelo Vulpes (golden age of Spanish and post-Tridentine Mariology). His usage is but an adaptation of an earlier one found in the 13th century (1257) Breviloquium (p. IV, c. 10) of St. Bonaventure (and so already very traditional, for Bonaventure is the quintessence of the theologian faithfully echoing the traditions of the Fathers): redemptio quoad sufficientiam and redemptio quoad efficientiam[12].[13]

Here Fr. Peter Damian points to the very grave problem of the undermining of the doctrine already well-established in the Church’s tradition for over centuries by the “Częstochowa Declaration” of August 1996. It is now twenty-five years since the release of the declaration of the “ad hoc” committee of the Pontifical International Marian Academy regarding the inadvisability of a dogmatic definition by the Pope on Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. One of the most important tasks of the academy is to advise the Holy See on matters Marian and many petitions were arriving in Rome asking for a definition. The supposed official response of the academy, which had met in solemn session in Częstochowa, Poland in August of 1996, along with a lengthy article authored by Father Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., as a commentary on that declaration was published in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper in its issue of 4 June 1997.

The first and most important fact to be kept in mind about the declaration and the two accompanying commentaries is that they are not official documents of the Holy See and one will look for them in vain in the Acta Apostolicæ Sedis, although they were published in L’Osservatore Romano as well as in the weekly English and other language editions of that paper.[14] The declaration and accompanying commentaries do not represent a broad spectrum of the opinion of the members of the Pontifical International Marian Academy, of which I also am a member, nor, insofar as I am aware, was there an open, fair and honest consideration of the issues involved. The initial polling was taken without any representation by those who were in favor of the definition or any serious debate. Instead of presenting the question to a study group well informed on the topic, it was presented, with no previous notice to most of the participants, at an “ecumenical round table,” consisting of 18 Catholics, three Orthodox, one Anglican, and one Lutheran. Subsequent commentaries were written as propaganda with little concern for the facts of the issues at stake. I am afraid that these documents are classic instances of the manipulation of the media and numerous other sectors in the Church by special interest groups in order to interpret the magisterium exclusively from their perspective, an exploitation which has been going on since the time of the Second Vatican Council.

Here is the “Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical International Marian Academy”:

Request for the definition of the dogma of Mary as Mediatrix, Coredemptrix and Advocate

The 12th International Mariological Congress held at Częstochowa (Poland) in August, was asked by the Holy See to study the possibility and the opportuneness of a definition of the Marian titles of Mediatrix, Coredemptrix and Advocate, as is being requested of the Holy See by certain circles. A commission was established, composed of 15 theologians chosen for their specific preparation in this area, so that together they could discuss and analyze the question through mature reflection. In addition to their theological competence, care was also taken to ensure the greatest possible geographical diversity among the members, so that any possible consensus would become especially significant. It was also sought to enrich the study group by adding, as external members, some non-Catholic theologians who were present at the Congress. The Commission arrived at a twofold conclusion:

1. The titles, as proposed, are ambiguous, as they can be understood in very different ways. Furthermore, the theological direction taken by the Second Vatican Council, which did not wish to define any of these titles, should not be abandoned. The Second Vatican Council did not use the title “Coredemptrix,” and uses “Mediatrix” and “Advocate” in a very moderate way (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 62). In fact, from the time of Pope Pius XII, the term “Coredemptrix” has not been used by the papal Magisterium in its significant documents. There is evidence that Pope Pius XII himself intentionally avoided using it. With respect to the title “Mediatrix,” the history of the question should not be forgotten: in the first decades of this century the Holy See entrusted the study of the possibility of its definition to three different commissions the result of which was that the Holy See decided to set the question aside.

2. Even if the titles were assigned a content which could be accepted as belonging to the deposit of the faith, the definition of these titles, however, in the present theological situation would be lacking in clarity, as such titles and the doctrines inherent in them still require further study in a renewed Trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective. Finally, the theologians, especially the non-Catholics, were sensitive to the ecumenical difficulties which would be involved in such a definition.[15]

We note that a highly significant step had taken place since the publication of the Prænotanda[16] in 1962: there it was stated that “Certain expressions and words used by Supreme Pontiffs have been omitted, which, in themselves are absolutely true, but which may only be understood with difficulty by separated brethren (in this case Protestants).” In 1996, however, the alleged experts, including Orthodox and Protestants, advised the Holy See that these titles “would be lacking in clarity” and would “still require further study in a renewed Trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective.” The terminology about the “renewed Trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective” was taken from Pope St. Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus, nn. 25-39, which was proposed as indicating the way forward for all Marian studies as was the subsequent publication of the Pontifical International Marian Academy for the new millennium: The Mother of the Lord: Memory, Presence, Hope.[17]

At the risk of being repetitious, I will present once again the quote from Father Peter Damian, which I presented in the last installment of this series regarding the very strong current in the Church today against Marian Coredemption. It favors a lowest common denominator approach to ecumenism and Father Peter did not hesitate to point this out. It represents a reprehensible watering down of the faith and of the Catholic tradition.

No doubt a good many current practitioners of the theological trade and ecumenists would strongly disagree with this position and perspective. Nonetheless, “agreed statements” resting on consensus building rather than truth, however much they promise a realization of the long-desired oikumene just beyond the horizon, never reach that horizon. The illusion is fostered by describing religious pluralism and dogmatic indifferentism as diversity within unity, especially in reference to the maternal mediation of Mary Immaculate and a right to “de-dogmatize” the Immaculate Conception and Assumption[18], and by describing secular progress and a bene esse consisting in this-worldly prosperity as “eschatological fulfilment” or salvation.

But none of this will change a very simple fact (et contra factum non datur argumentum): the crisis, including above all its ecumenical and theological dimensions, will not only continue, but will worsen, until the Church confesses publicly the absolute priority of the cause of Mary Coredemptrix. This is, to adapt a famous Lutheran axiom, the articulus stantis aut cadentis Ecclesiae. Only thus can the root of secularism be exorcised and the new evangelization of the West, and the renewed civilization of love be genuinely, successfully initiated.[19] 


[1]     It is to be noted that one of his great masters, Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) is also known as the “Subtle Doctor” — Doctor Subtilis.


[2]     Father Peter is here referring to the following citation in Ineffabilis Deus, which Bl. Pius IX adapted from St. Anselm (1033-1099): Mary possessed “that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully” [Our Lady: Papal Teachings, trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1961)], n. 31.


[3]     St. Bonaventure (1221-1273).


[4]     No one can be too devoted (or devout) to Mary.


[5]     Cf. Ruggero Rosini, O.F.M., Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2008), 73 [Ioannis Duns Scoti Theologiæ Marianæ Elementa, Edidit Carolus Balić, O.F.M. (Sibenici ex Typographia Kačić, 1933), 31].


[6]     As Father Peter Damian liked to point out, St. Thomas Aquinas effectively says that, after God himself, there are three quasi-infinites: The humanity of Christ, from the fact that it is united to the Godhead; and created happiness from the fact that it is the fruition of God; and the Blessed Virgin from the fact that she is the Mother of God; have all a certain infinite dignity [quandam dignitatem infinitiam] from the infinite good, which is God. And on this account, there cannot be anything better than these; just as there cannot be anything better than God (Summa Theologica P. 1 Q. 25 Art. 6, ad 4).


[7]     Cf. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv., William J. Short, O.F.M. (Eds.), Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. II (NY: New City Press, 2000), 542, 598.


[8]     Cf. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv., William J. Short, O.F.M. (Eds.), Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. I (NY: New City Press, 5th printing, 2008), 141.


[9]     Cf. Jonathan Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2016) which cites Fr. Peter Damian frequently and for which Fr. Peter Damian wrote an Afterword.


[10]    Peter Damian Fehnler, “Mariæ Advocatæ Causæ: The Marian Issue in the Church Today” and published in Maria “Unica Cooperatrice alla Redenzione”: Atti del Simposio sul Mistero della Corredenzione Mariana, Fatima, Portogallo 3-7 Maggio 2005 (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2005), 566-567. Henceforth referred to as Mariæ Advocatæ Causæ. This book is still available from the Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA and this essay is also scheduled to be published in the second volume of The Collected Essays of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner. Bold print my own.


[11]    Cf. Brunero Gherardini, “The Coredemption of Mary: Doctrine of the Church” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross — II: Acts of the Second International Symposium on Marian Coredemption (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2002), 37-48, wherein Msgr. Gherardini makes it clear that the doctrine of Marian coredemption is proxima fidei.


[12]    Cf. The Works of Bonaventure trans. José de Vinck II: The Breviloquium (Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1962) 175-176. St. Bonaventure affirms here that “The means used for man’s redemption was UTTERLY SUFFICIENT” and “The remedy was UTTERLY EFFICACIOUS.”


[13]    Mariæ Advocatæ Causæ 568-569. “Objective redemption” refers to the work of the redemption on Calvary wrought by Jesus and Mary; “subjective redemption” refers to its application to us through the sacraments of the Church.


[14]    “Richiesta della definizione del dogma di Maria Mediatrice, Corredentrice e Avvocata: Dichiarazione della Commissione teologica del Congresso del Częstochowa”; “Un nuovo dogma mariano?” Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., “La cooperazione di Maria all’opera della Redenzione: Attualità di una questione,” L’Osservatore Romano [= OR] 4 June 1997 pp. 10-11. These were duly published in the English edition as well: “Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical International Marian Academy: Request for the definition of the dogma of Mary as Mediatrix, Coredemptrix and Advocate,” L’Osservatore Romano, weekly English edition, (first numeral — cumulative edition number, second numeral — page number) [= ORE] 1494:12; “A new Marian dogma?” ORE 1497:10; Salvatore M. Perrella, O.S.M., “Mary’s co-operation in work of Redemption: Present State of a Question,” ORE 1498:9-10.


[15]    This Declaration was published in the English weekly edition of L’Osservatore Romano on 4 June 1997, p.12.


[16]    Cf. Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Œcumenici Vaticani Secundi, Vol. I, Periodus Prima, Pars. IV (Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1971), 99; Ermanno M. Toniolo, O.S.M., La Beata Maria Vergine nel Concilio Vaticano II (Rome: Centro di Cultura Mariana «Madre della Chiesa,” 2004), 98-99 (my trans). My emphasis. In the text of 13 July 1962, the term “omnium gratiarum dispensatrix” [Dispenser of all graces] attributed to Pius XII and Leo XIII was also indicated for omission and this was rigorously respected. Cf. Also “The Marian Issue in the Church today” Parts 5 & 6.


[17]    Translated by Thomas A. Thompson, S.M. (Staten Island: St. Paul’s, 2007). That guidebook also presents “The Commitment to Ecumenism [as] An Imperative of the Christian Conscience,” proposing an effective elimination of topics like Marian Coredemption and Mediation from Catholic vocabularies and discussions with our separated brethren (103-107).


[18]    Father Peter Damian refers here to a proposal made by Avery Dulles, S.J. on December 6, 1974 in the form of a question raised in favor of ecumenical sensitivity: Could not the Catholic Church “during the coming Holy Year, consider the possibility that these two Marian doctrines (i.e., the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption), while still being taught as Catholic doctrine, might be officially acknowledged as demanding only a free assent from those who are personally convinced of their truth?” Cf. Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., “Dogmatic Development by Abridgement or by Concentration” Marian Studies, XXVII (1976), 92-98. In his latter years Cardinal Dulles retracted this proposal.


[19]    Mariæ Advocatæ Causæ, 564-565. Bold letters my own.