The Marian Question


a)“Maximalists” and “Minimalists” in the Council

At the beginning of October 1963, a new conflict arose just when it was about to be decided whether the draft schema regarding the Blessed Virgin should have been discussed separately or inserted into the one of the Church.  The discussion revealed two opposing tendencies, the maximalists and the minimalists. The “maximalists” were the followers of the  great Marian movement of the 20th century 120  that, after the definition of the dogma of the Assumption, hoped for the proclamation of a new dogma from the Pope and all the bishops gathered at the Council:   Mary, Mediatrix of all graces121 .

At that time no Catholic theologian doubted the fact that Mary had exercised, in a certain actual and immediate way, an influence on the work of the Redemption, that is in the distribution of all graces to all men individually.  However, at the Marian Congress held in Lourdes in 1958122, two tendencies had emerged, between the mariologists:  the maximalist  which made all the privileges of Mary descend from Her Divine Maternity,i.e.  from the hypostastic order123, and the minimalist, according to which, Mariology would have its foundation in the parallelism between Mary and the Church124. The first tendency was defined as “Christotypical Mariology” because it emphasized the intimate  connection between Christ and His Mother in the only act of Redemption.  It was from this union that the co-redemption and mediation of Mary originated.  The second tendency affirmed instead, that the role of Mary was subordinated to that of the Church, to which, after Christ, the first place was due and of which Mary was only a member. Her privileges were to be understood inside the Christian community, where She was “the model.”  For this reason it was called “Ecclesiotypical Mariology”.

Among the conciliar experts ,the ”maximalists” were represented by two strong personalities: Father Carlo Balic’125, President from 1960 of the International Pontifical Marian Academy and Father Gabriele Maria Roschini, Dean of Marianum in Rome.

Carlo Balic’, born in Croatia in 1899, brought the rugged character of his country into the debate. He had  lived in Rome since 1933, when he had been called to teach at the Antonianum. There he had carried out diverse work as a scholar, editor and , above all,  as an organizer of Marian Congresses, including that which took place on the occasion of the Lourdes’ centennial anniversary in 1958, which turned out to be a type of “dress rehearsal” for the conciliar clash that occurred between “the maximalists” and the “the minimalists”.  Father Congar, who could not abide his passionate Mariology, defined him with contempt (in his Diary) as “an eloquent  charlatan” 126, “a Dalmatian travelling- salesman”127, “a fairground juggler”128  “a fairground propagandist”129.

On the contrary, Mons. Antonio Piolanti, recalls Balic’ as “a titan of a man, built almost on an abyss of contrasts – a great soul of unlimited horizons and immense desires.  A type of coincidentia oppositorum  was easily detected in the vigorous spiritual physiognomy of this worthy son of strong and gentle Croatia: the heart of a child and Hieronymic impetus, the tenderness of a mother and authoritativeness of a leader, acute and penetrating intelligence, resolute and fiery determination, warm generosity and Dantesque indignation.”130

Roschini, a priest with the Servants of Mary in Viterbo, was a scholarly man of faith and to his credit had, like Balic’, an extensive bibliography, including an impressive treatise and a complete Dictionary of Mariology131, published in 1960, in which he explored the mystery of Mary in all its aspects.  The foundation of the Pontifical Faculty of  Marianum Theology on the 8th December 1950  was due to his endeavors.  His extraordinary scientific, organizational and popular work, has still to be studied in its entirety.132

Balic’ and Roschini’s dream of having the mediation of Mary proclaimed, shattered the conciliar halls. Recalling the strenuous battle conducted during the Council in defense of the Marian privileges, Father Balic’ , eyes bright with pain, said to Piolanti one day: ” It was there that all my work was wrecked.”133

The majority of the Conciliar Fathers, as the vota had highlighted, cultivated a lively Marian devotion and were disposed towards the “maximalist” thesis. The minority from central Europe were noted instead for their aversion to what Padre Yves Congar defined as “Marian-Christianity” 134.  On the evening of the 22nd of September 1961, Congar notes: I am aware of the drama that has accompanied me all my life: the need to fight, for the sake of the Gospel and the Apostolic faith, against the Mediterranean and Irish development and  proliferation of a Mariology that does not proceed from Revelation, but is sustained by Pontifical texts”135.

Congar had the support of Rahner, but also of the young mariologist René Laurentin, the most valid exponent of the “minimalists”, to whom the merit of opening “the battle against the maximalists” in the Council is attributed. 136. “We said to each other that we must not make EXCESSIVE opposition, in order not to run the risk of something worse which we want to avoid” 137.

  1. b) The campaign against the “maximalists” begins

The signal of the attack against the maximalists was the publication of the volume (with the proximity of  the second session) La question mariale138 by Laurentin, in which the “Marian movement” was presented as “a problem”. “ Without doubt the Marian movement is fecund, fervent, prosperous  – wrote Laurentin – but is its abundance not excessive?  Is its intensity not feverish? Is its specialized development not in part pathological? “139.   Contemporary  Mariology , characterized by “an excessive abundance of writings”140, according to Laurentin, would have presented a tendency “a priori”, in its commitment for an unconditional exaltation of the Madonna141.   This tendency needed to be purified in order to render it compatible with the demands of ecumenism and the new theology.

The minimalist line suggested by the French mariologist was that which is typically hypocritical of the “Third Party”:  neither “a Christianity of the Virgin in which St. Paul would not recognize himself”, nor “a Christianity without the Virgin, which would no longer be Catholic”142. This formulation sat well with the moderates and above all, it had the support of the media, whose mechanisms Laurentin , theologian and journalist , was well acquainted with.

Laurentin’s book was meticulously refuted by a great mariologist, Father de Aldama143, at the solicitation of Father Balic’ and Father Roschini, who in turn intervened in the polemics with a booklet called “The so-called Marian question” 144.

Father de Aldama recalled, as a feature of the great Marian revival of the 20th century, the numerous religious Congregations, both masculine and feminine, born with the name of Mary; the repeated apparitions:  Paris (in 1830 to St. Catherine Labourè), La Salette (1846), Lourdes (1858),Philippsdorf (1858), Pontmain (1871),Fatima (1917), Beauraing (1932) and Banneux (1933), with their related sanctuaries, pilgrimages and devotions;  the congresses, the societies, the magazines, the cathedrals dedicated to Mary; the innumerable pronouncements by the Roman Pontiffs, true promoters of the Marian movement145.  In particular, Pius XII saw in the increasing devotion of the faithful to the Virgin  “the most encouraging sign of the times”146 and “ an infallible touchstone in distinguishing true Christians from false ones”147.  Accordingly, it was a matter of following a path that had already been traced out.

In his study, Roschini compared the tentative to “reduce” the efforts of the Marian movement to Monita salutaria (1673) by the German jurisconsult, Adam Widenfeld (1645-1680) who, three centuries before, had attacked Marian devotion of the time. “ History has its recurrences. After three centuries, here we have a new reaction, without a doubt exaggerated, against the Marian movement, against the  Mariology of today and against  Marian devotion (…)”.  In his view, you could not speak  of a Maximalist tendency; “ instead, you could speak on solid basis of a Minimalist tendency, which, leaving out completely the teachings of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium , not only denies or sows doubt about absolute truths, but goes as far as to favour the faith above the divine Maternity, even identifying Most Holy Mary with the Church, lowering Her to the level of all the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ, as prima inter pares”148.

The Minimalists enjoyed the support of John XXIII who, in 1954, six months before Pius XII’s encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam, which instituted the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, had manifested the “considerable hesitancy” of his spirit in regard to a new feast about the Queenship of Mary, “in the fear of  grave prejudice about its apostolic effectiveness employed in bringing back the unity of  the Holy Catholic Church in the world”149. This explains how Pope John XXIII would have been disposed to receiving the demands of the “minimalists”, who accused the “maximalists” of prejudicing ecumenism. The same minimalist line would be shared by Paul VI. His last intervention during the work done by the preliminary Committee was on the 20th June 1962, when he had sided with Cardinal Liénart, against the proposal to confer the title of “Mediatrix150” to the Virgin, and who had defined it as “inopportune and even detrimental”.  Father Bevilaqua confided to Mons. Helder Càmara: “I attract the Pope’s attention  every time I see a good book like the Question mariale by René Laurentin or also the books on the Council written by Hans Kung. He loves Rahner and Haring a lot. And I do too151”. “The stronghold of reaction – noted Mons. Helder Càmara – is being transformed little by little”152.

In January 1963, after the closing of the first session, the Council’s coordinating Committee decided that the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, would be treated separately  from the schema De Ecclesia. “There is no doubt– Komonchak admitted – that the schema De Beata Maria Virgine, also regarding Her role as Mediatrix, met with the expectations and desires of a great number of bishops, according to their  vota beforehand.

The Schema constititionis dogmaticae de Maria Ecclesia, was sent to the Fathers during the month of May. Neither the decision, nor the approved text pleased Father Rahner, who in a written text addressed to all of the participants at the Fulda conference in August 1963, expressed his great concern regarding the document. These (concerns) – he assured –  were shared by Fathers Grillmeier and Semmelroth.  If the text were adopted, he affirmed “it would cause unimaginable harm from the ecumenical point of view regarding both the Orientals and the Protestants “154. Certainly, Rahner added, it could not be expected that the schema would be rejected like the one on the sources of Revelation.  To reduce its importance, it was necessary to push, with all the insistence possible, until the schema became a chapter, or epilogue of the schema on the Church. This, to his mind, would have been “the easiest means to suppress from the schema the affirmations that theologically, are not sufficiently developed and would do nothing other than create incalculable harm from an ecumenical point of view. Thus, bitter discussions would be avoided”155.

The point that Rahner attacked with the greatest vigour was the teaching of the schema about the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and more precisely the title which was attributed to Her, as “Mediatrix of all graces”. This teaching proposed in the  draft  not as a dogma of faith, but as an ordinary doctrine of the Church, was rejected by Rahner, because of the negative consequences,  that in his opinion, they  could have had on Mariology and on the devotion of the faithful towards Mary.  The Protestants, in fact, denied any formal cooperation whatsoever of Mary with the Redemption and abhorred the terms “Mediatrix” and even more “Co-Redemptrix”. He concluded affirming that the Bishops of Austria, Germany and Switzerland had to consider it their duty to assume an open rejection of the schema in its present formulation156.

The Fulda Conference adopted Rahner’s suggestions, but on the point of Mary’s mediation, it limited its criticism only to the expression “Mediatrix of all graces”. The proposal, officially submitted by the Fathers at the Fulda Conference to the general Secretary of the Council, also cited Protestant fonts, recalling how the Lutheran, German Bishop Dibelius, had declared in 1962, that the teaching of the Catholic Church on Mary was one of the major obstacles to ecumenical unity.  According to other German Protestants, the Council Fathers had to remember that, approving a schema on Mary, they would have raised a new wall of division;  they would therefore have had to maintain silence on the theme or call to order those  who rendered themselves guilty of excesses.

  1. c) The success of the “minimalists”

On the 30thof September 1963, the day opening the debate, the “minimalists” immediately asked, through Cardinal Frings157, to absorb all that regarded the Blessed Virgin Mary into the draft schema on the Church, intended to facilitate ecumenical dialogue with the separated brethren. The following day Cardinal Silva Henrìquez158 also sustained that in Latin America the devotion to the Virgin Mary exceeded the limits of Christian devotion and that the approval of a schema on the Madonna would have worsened the situation. Consequently, on behalf of 44 bishops from Latin American countries, he supported Cardinal Frings’ proposal.  Similar declarations were made that same morning by Monsignor Garrone159, Archbishop of Tolosa, on behalf of “many French bishops”, by Monsignor Elchinger160 and by Monsignor Mèndez Arceo161.

On the 4th of October, the English and Welsh hierarchy intervened in favour of Frings’ proposal.  On the same day a text drawn up by the Servite Fathers was distributed to the Council Fathers, in which they suggested that, alongside the title of “Mediatrix” , also the title of “Co-redemptrix”  should be used.  Father Balic’, expert on the Theological Commission, in turn, circulated a document in which he set out the reasons why the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary had to remain separated from the one regarding the Church.  Also Cardinal Arriba y Castro162, Archbishop of Tarragona, speaking on behalf of 60 Spanish bishops, declared that, given the importance of the Mother of God in the economy of the Redemption, contrary to what had until that moment been sustained, it would have been preferable to adopt a separate schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary163.

The discussion continued with interventions of opposing tendencies. On the 24th of October, the Cardinal Moderators announced that seeing the great number of Fathers that had requested the inclusion of the schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary with the one on the Church, the Holy Father had charged the doctrinal Commission to choose two from among its members to expose their different positions. The Commission designated Cardinal Rufino Santos164, from Manila, as advocate for a separate draft schema and Cardinal Franz Konig of Vienna as advocate for the incorporation. The two Council Fathers exposed their contrasting propositions on the 24th October165.

The Archbishop of Manila enunciated 10 arguments in favour of the separate schema, affirming that Our Lady is the first and principal member of the Church, but at the same time is above the Church and, according to Saint Bernard’s judgment, “stat intra Christum et Ecclesia”. The faithful – he added – would have interpreted the incorporation of Del Beata into De Ecclesia as a sign of lessening  Marian devotion. Konig affirmed, on the contrary, that the faithful had “to purify” their Marian devotion in order to avoid their attachment to that which was secondary and accidental and, above all, in order not to damage the cause of ecumenism. The texts of the two Cardinals’ reports were distributed on October 25th.  The “Ecclesiotypical” of the “minimalists “ aimed at the relativisation of  the Blessed Virgin’s role, which considered Her in relationship not with Her Divine Son, but with the ordinary faithful in the Church166. They overturned the traditional conception that has always considered Maria not as a figure, but as a exemplar for the Church. Indeed, “the figure is inferior to the figurative, of which constitutes the effect, while the exemplary is superior to its image and it constitutes the cause. Therefore, it is rather the Church that is the image and figure of the Virgin” 167.

On the 29th of October the following question was put to the vote: “Does it please the Council Fathers that the schema regarding the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, be revised in order to become the VI Chapter of the scheme on the Church? The results of the vote were 1,114 in favour, 1,074 against.  For the first time the assembly found itself split in two, with a disparity of only 40 votes; the division corresponded to that of two opposing theological visions and marked victory for the “minimalists”, even if by a small margin169.

According to Melissa Wilde , the success of the progressives, more than their strength, was due to the weakness of the conservatives, who had still not found any organizational form. Despite the efforts of some of them, like Father Balic’ who on his own initiative, leafleted his writings for the Council Fathers, they lacked a coordinated and systematic action. “As the Council was voting on Mary, the leaders of the CIP (Coetus Internationalis Patrum) were just beginning to correspond and had still not seriously constituted their organization.  It was, in fact, the defeat of the Marian schema, along with the disastrous votes on collegiality the following day, that forced the conservatives into organizing themselves better (…).  The evidence shows that they would have been able to do much more regarding the Marian schema if they had been better organized beforehand in  the Council” 170.