Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, FI

The Sense of Marian Coredemption in
St. Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus
by Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, FI, STD

I. St. Bonaventure (1)

There are many longer expositions of St. Bonaventure on the maternal mediation of Mary and on the coredemption in particular. Here I shall only outline some of the major themes of the Seraphic Doctor touching the mystery of Marian coredemption.

Much ink has been spilled in the recent past over the teaching of St. Bonaventure on the coredemption. Some have asserted, contrary to the received tradition of the Franciscan Order, that he could not possibly have affirmed this doctrine since a) he did not accept the Immaculate Conception, which alone makes possible the resolution of the principal theological objection to the coredemption: how could she share with her Son in the work of acquiring redemptive merit if she herself was in need of being redeemed, viz., freed from sin (liberative redemption); and b) the highly sophisticated explanation ascribed to him is anachronistic.

To these objections we may reply: a) the failure to affirm the Immaculate Conception is logically inconsistent with his Franciscan christocentrism and with his clear exposition of what we now know as the coredemption; and b) the highly sophisticated explanation of the coredemption is ascribed to him because it is found "talis-qualis" in his works. That being the case, it is hardly reasonable to doubt his teaching about the coredemption because he hesitated to affirm the Immaculate Conception. In this regard Bl. John Duns Scotus merely completes the teaching of the Seraphic Doctor on the maternal mediation of Our Lady in providing a correct theological formulation for the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Together these two doctors give adequate and definitive formulation to the Marian contemplative theology of St. Francis.

At the heart of the Marian contemplative theology of St. Francis is the maternal mediation of Mary. St. Bonaventure has said it well: whether we say Incarnation or divine Maternity we are talking about the same mystery, because we cannot talk about the Son without the Mother, or the Mother without the Son. The mode of the Incarnation and redemption is Marian. The joint predestination of Jesus and Mary constitutes the order of the hypostatic union, the very center of the Gospel.

When we affirm this, we also grasp why the extended treatment of the coredemption by the Seraphic Doctor is not anachronistic. It is already fully present in St. Francis "mystically". Nor is it only found in St. Bonaventure by way of exception. It is found in almost every Franciscan theologian and preacher of the 13th century whose written works have come down to us: Conrad of Saxony, James of Milan, Servussanctus of Faenza, Jacopone of Todi, Ubertinus of Casale, to mention just a few. The only difference between their presentation and that of St. Bonaventure is found in the fact that they present bits and pieces of the complete doctrine which they presume is familiar to those for whom they write. Whereas St. Bonaventure gives us a relatively systematic outline of the complete doctrine in theological terms.

The context for this systematic exposition of the coredemption by the Seraphic Doctor is the general theme of maternal mediation of our Lady, which according to him has three phases or moments: that of the divine maternity by which Mary brings forth the price of our ransom; that in which she offers or pays the price of our redemption; and that in which she possesses the price of our redemption, viz., in which she alone governs the distribution of graces obtained by the "payment of the ransom", not gold or silver, but her entire substance, Jesus, via her compassion with His suffering and death so that she might have pity for the rest of her poor children.

The first of these moments is commonly known today as the "mediate, objective coredemption"; the second as the immediate, objective coredemption; and the third maternal mediation in the strict sense, or distribution of graces, or subjective coredemption, the phase in which we may participate as "coredeemers", precisely because through the coredemption in its second phase Mary has in fact consummated her maternal vocation and become the effective Mother of the Church and of those born of water and the Holy Spirit.

St. Bonaventure notes exactly that Our Lady exercises her maternal mediation in the first and third phases in virtue of her unique relation to the Holy Spirit - we would say today in virtue of her Immaculate Conception - and in both instances her maternal action precedes the formation of the whole Christ in Head and members.

But there is also a difference. The passage from the conception-birth of Jesus to the rebirth of His mystical members passes by way of the Virgin's personal involvement in the redemptive sacrifice of her Son and Savior, what we call immediate objective coredemption. She both offers Him and offers herself with Him as victim. The first is by way of her consent at the Incarnation: Behold the handmaid (slave) of God. . The sense of that consent is specified by Mary herself at the beginning of the Savior's public life leading to the place and final "hour" of sacrifice in order that those invited to the wedding feast of Paradise might have the new wine in unending abundance. Such is the message of the account of the wedding feast at Cana.

The second, foretold by Simeon at the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple by Mary and known as her purification or sanctification as co-victim so as to be, according to the Seraphic Doctor, exemplar and form of our purification, was lived by her, that is, enduring in her soul the very suffering entailed in her Son's dying - without actually dying physically - and followed after that compassion, as the piercing of Jesus' side followed His death, the transpiercing of her soul, that we might be able to compassionate with Christ and so fill up what is lacking to the sufferings of Jesus for the Church (cf. Col. 1, 24). She, and She alone was privileged to be Coredemptrix in this sense, and She and She alone could be the Virgin Mother. The first makes possible our liberation from sin and incorporation into the Body of Christ (which she conceived and formed) via her role as our maternal Mediatrix with Christ. What this means concretely for the Church St. Bonaventure illustrates in great detail in expounding the mystery of our Lady's Assumption. The second makes possible the Incarnation, and so the new "patriarchatus" of the New Adam and the New Eve: joint kingship and queenship over the redeemed. Such is the divine order willed that "if the Mother of Jesus is rejected, Jesus is too, and with that one simply leaves the world under the domain of Satan and sin" (Sermo de Nat. II).

Why the Assumption and what is its proximate basis, theologically speaking? Evidently the "coredemption" according to the Seraphic Doctor. It is this mystery which is prefigured typically: negatively in the role of Eve in the sin of the first Adam; positively in such Old Testament figures as Anna and Abraham, and in the New Testament the poor widow. Each offered, but only partially: Anna her child for service; Abraham his sole heir, but only symbolically with a ram; the poor widow all her money. But Mary qua Virgin-Mother offered her whole substance, that is, Jesus.

St. Bonaventure did not regard this teaching as a mere theological opinion. For him this is part of the binding tradition of the Church, so much so that its rejection will put one on the road to eternal perdition. This brief recapitulation of the Seraphic Doctor on the coredemption is sufficiently detailed to show how his teaching is a very precise theological formulation of the central Marian character of St. Francis' spirituality. St. Bonaventure himself, as well as Henry d'Avranches, describes that spirituality thus: as Mary is our Mediatrix with Jesus, so Jesus is our Mediator with the Father.

II. Bl. John Duns Scotus (2)

And with this we can see very easily where Bl. John Duns Scotus fits into this history. He centered his exposition of the Immaculate Conception - preservative redemption - on the doctrine of perfect redemption, clearly indicated in the Breviloquium (p. IV, c. 2-4) as one of the three characteristic features of the economy of salvation (the three quasi-infinites of St. Thomas): the Incarnation, the divine Maternity and the heavenly Jerusalem. They could not be more perfect in any possible order. Bonaventure, Thomas, as well as Scotus all accept St. Anselm's dictum: our Lady could not have been made holier by the Father than she actually has been made in any other possible world, however more perfect than this one. Scotus simply tells us what this degree of holiness actually is: the Immaculate Conception. This is what places our Lady in the first instance in the order of the hypostatic union. And this is the postulate of a perfect redemption: one who can be Virgin Mother and Coredemptrix. Preservative redemption actively put in the subject who can define herself: I am the Immaculate Conception, means just this.

And if we ask: how did Scotus conceive in detail this most perfect redemption by a most perfect Redeemer, then we need only study the very detailed, very precise exposition of St. Bonaventure summarized above. Historically, the theological elaboration of the coredemption is not consequent upon that of the Immaculate Conception. Rather, the elaboration of the Immaculate Conception is consequent upon an increased awareness of the mystery of the coredemption, that precisely which St. Francis gave it. What the formulation of the theology of the Immaculate Conception makes possible is the successful resolution of objections to the coredemption which will surface just before and in the wake of the protestant reformation and its insistence on the principle of "Christus solus", or the radical denial of the Immaculate Conception and joint predestination of Mary with her Son. That joint predestination is the cornerstone of Catholic soteriology.

And what is still more marvelous, so viewed we do not substitute Mary for Christ. Her Immaculate Conception, her predestination independently of and prior to Adam in view of the divine Maternity and the New Adam is the ringing and only possible affirmation permitted us of the absolute primacy of the Incarnate Word and Redeemer - not merely relative to sin, but in Himself over all creation, visible and invisible. It is the Marian dimension which truly exalts Christ most, achieves His absolute centrality, not the "Christus solus" theories popularized by the Protestant reformers. Marian minimalism always tends to this as Newman after Bonaventure saw so clearly (3): far from exalting Christ it tends to exclude Him and ends by completely forgetting Him when the Mother has been repudiated. No wonder, then, that our Lord told Sr. Lucy that He willed His heart to be adored alongside the Immaculate Heart and assured bliss to us only on condition that we work for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.

That being so, we can also see the link between the typical Scotistic teaching on the primacy of the will and charity, of the possibility of a finite person cooperating with the Savior in co-meriting our redemption. St. Bonaventure tells us our Lady as Coredemptrix suffered and died, not out of corruption, but out of charity, that is, in the same way her Son willingly laid down His life. The Seraphic Doctor affirms the fact; Scotus provides the theological analysis, developed for the most part from the antecedent reflections of St. Anselm and St. Bonaventure on the nature of the will and of love.

But this approach in fact enables to understand something about the seraphic love of the Poverello for the Crucified: it was the love of the Immaculate Heart lived to a degree hardly ever equaled. It is the same love which impelled St. Maximilian, the priest, to lay down his life for another. That is why he is called a martyr of charity, because in an age particularly characterized by the "profanation of charity" (4) the Saint of Auschwitz, totally consecrated to the Immaculate shows us what it means to incorporate that mystery into life: it means to live the mystery of the coredemption, and have the corresponding pity for souls in danger of hell, or enduring the culture of death and hell even now.

Duns Scotus, then, makes an important contribution to the clarification of the doctrine of the coredemption: not because he affirms it for the first time (for in his time the doctrine was without quibble accepted as part of the deposit of faith), nor because he gave it systematic treatment (that was already more than evident in the work of St. Bonaventure), but because he gave definitive form to the theological arguments and terminology setting forth the fundamental postulate of the coredemption, viz., the Immaculate Conception.

It is only fitting that a Franciscan friar trained in English schools when England was still so singularly Marian should be the theologian most closely associated with the theology of the Immaculate Conception, a theology without which it would be impossible to give a fully satisfactory account of Our Lady's unique role at the foot of the Cross and in every Mass. The devotion to the Immaculate Conception first took root in pre-norman England, and after the conquest of that kingdom in 1066 by the Normans from Normandy, was through their political influence in so much of western Europe, not least in southern Italy gradually introduced throughout western Europe. Did St. Francis have contact with this devotion and had it any bearing on his understanding of the title "Spouse of the Holy Spirit"? There is no way of resolving such a question. Nonetheless the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is deeply imbedded in the spirituality of St. Francis. It is this spirituality which in so many ways provides the basis for the theology of Bl. John Duns Scotus who gave a definitive theological formulation to the principles undergirding the devotion.


St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, the Franciscan Saint who according to the reputable historians of the title "Spouse of the Holy Spirit" best understood St. Francis on this title of Mary, called the attention of contemporary Franciscans to something most of them have consistently overlooked, namely, that golden thread running throughout the history of the Franciscan Order and constituting the key to its character and purpose. This is the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. On this basis he divided the history of the Order into two main periods, the first running from its foundation in 1209 to the solemn dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 by the Ven. Pius IX, soon to be beatified. This he called the first page of Franciscan history whose primary purpose was to promote the solemn dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception. That completed, a second page began, that treating the incorporation of that dogma into the life of the Church. (5)

If we would understand what that means, then we must look to the Immaculate gloriously assummed into heaven, crowned there Queen, precisely because of her triumph on Calvary. Incorporate the mystery of the Immaculate Conception into the life of the Church and of believers means to live the mystery of the coredemption in being conformed to Christ Crucified. In that way we discover what St. Bonaventure means when he says that the Virgin Mother is the form and exemplar of all holiness, that what is fully realized in her now is in the process of being realized in the Church and in the saints, viz.., being without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph. 5, 27).

We can finally appreciate that "dictum" often used to summarize the argument of Scotus for the Immaculate Conception (and so often dismissed today): "potuit, decuit, ergo fecit". What God did in the economy of salvation culminating in the great victory over the prince of this world on Calvary and in every Mass, is found in the deposit of faith. But our understanding of this and more importantly living of this - please note with St. Bonaventure: theology is for the sake of speculation, that we might be holy, and principally that we might be holy - is stimulated in two ways. The principal stimulation is that of the saints, viz., contemplative theology under the guidance of the Magisterium. The auxiliary or subordinate aid is that of scholastic reflection on the truths of faith under the aegis of the gift of the Holy Spirit called understanding. The work of the saints bears on the decuit: why it is fitting to define and to proclaim a given truth at a given point in the history of the Church. The work of the scholastic theologian is not to prove such and such a truth exists, for this we know first of all by faith, but to explain how it can be, the potuit or intelligibility of the mystery, in so far as this contributes to the purification of our minds, reinforces our faith and disposes us for contemplation.

One of the major fruits of such activity is dogmatic definition. Precisely because of the suspension of genuine scholastic theology between magisterial proclamation and contemplative love any kind of doctrinal reflection tending to dogmatic definition (definibility) is preceded by the theological contribution of a great Saint. St. Francis is a case in point: his grasp of theology, eagle-like like that of St. John, with whom the Poverello occupies a special place by Mary at the foot of the cross, is the Saint whose mystical theology makes possible the elaboration of three great Marian mysteries: the Coredemption, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption. Two have been defined, the Immaculate Conception pointing to, the Assumption resting on the Coredemption. Seen from the vantage point of St. Francis' vocation to repair the Church, the next step should be the dogmatic definition of the Coredemption and of its immediate corollary, the mediation of all graces.

Let us pray that the work of theologians in seeking to illumine the mystery of coredemption for us and even more the lives of contemporary saints will draw us not only to understand, but desire to live and to live in fact the mystery of the Immaculate Coredemptrix as she is now present in our lives, in our penance, in our prayer, above all Eucharistic prayer as the Mother of grace. Better with St. Maximilian, let her "transubstantiate" us into her so that she might love and serve Jesus in us for the conversion and sanctification of all souls for whom Jesus gave His life on the Cross and continues to give it daily in the sacrifice of the Mass.

(Copyright by Immaculate Mediatrix On-line www.marymediatrix.com)


(1) On the mariology of St. Bonaventure in general cf. L. Di Fonzo, Doctrina S. Bonaventurae de universali Mediatione B. Virginis Mariae (Rome 1938). On coredemption in particular cf. the detailed study of P. Fehlner, "Il mistero della corredenzione secondo il Dottore Serafico San Bonaventura" in Maria Corredentrice, vol. II (Frigento 1999) pp 11-91, together with the Presentazione of the same volume (pp 5-10). Texts on the coredemption are found everywhere in the writings of the Seraphic Doctor, but the major ones appear in the Marian sermons and in the sixth conference on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

(2) For the mariology of Scotus in general cf. R. Zavalloni - E. Mariani, La dottrina mariologica di Giovanni Duns Scoto (Roma 1987); R. Rosini, Mariologia del beato Giovanni Duns Scoto (Castelpetroso 1994); on the coredemption in particular cf. R. Rosini, "Il pensiero del Beato Giovanni Duns Scoto sulla corredenzione mariana" in Maria Corredentrice, vol. II (Frigento 1999) pp 93-128.

(3) Cf. J. H. Newman, "The Glories of Mary for the sake of Her Son", in Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (London 1897) pp. 342-359.

(4) Cf. Jean Borella, La Charitéé Profanéée. Subversion De L'ÂÂme Chréétienne (Paris 1979).

(5) Cf. P. Fehlner, "The Other Page", in Miles Immaculatae 24 (1988) pp. 512-530.

Fr. Peter Damien Fehlner FI, STD is a professor of dogmatic theology. He taught in Seraphicum in Rome for many years; he wrote extensively on Franciscan and Marian themes. He was featured in Mother Angelica's EWTN several times.


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