Mariology of the saints

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Throughout history Roman Catholic Mariology has been influenced by a number of saints who have attested to the central role of Mary in God's plan of salvation.[1]

Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, in defending the doctrine that the Person of Jesus Christ is God the Son, defended the basis of all Marian spirituality. For Pope Leo the Great, devotion to Mary is first determined by devotion to Christ. Petrus Canisius actively promoted the sodalities of our Lady and the rosary associations.

While the Marian teachings of some saints may have been virtually unknown during their own life, they have influenced the Church centuries later. An example is Saint Louis de Montfort who was a priest for only 16 years and had but a handful of followers upon his death at the beginning of the 18th century, yet influenced four popes, namely Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XII and John Paul II who chose his personal motto Totus Tuus based on Montfort's influence.

The influence of saints on Mariology continued in the 20th century, with Saint Maximillian Kolbe's focus on the Immaculate Conception and his Immaculata prayer.

How the saints contributed to Mariology

Beyond the teachings of the early Church Fathers, the growth of Mariology over the centuries has been shaped by the interplay not only of theologians but also of three other forces:

  • Papal directives and teachings of the Holy See, based largely on the work of theologians.
  • Popular Catholic sentiments, devotions.
  • Views, writings and religious experiences of saints, theologians and non-theologians.

As a Doctor of the Church the views of Saint Anthony of Padua on the Virgin Mary shaped the Mariological approach of a large number of Franciscans who followed his approach for centuries after his death.[2]

Saint Louis de Montfort was mostly a missionary preacher who travelled from village to village on foot to deliver sermons. Yet, over the centuries, de Montfort's Marian theological books, such as True Devotion to Mary and Secret of the Rosary, gathered a strong following among Catholics and in time influenced millions of people.

Early saints

Irenaeus of Lyons

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 140–202) is perhaps the earliest of the Church Fathers to develop a thorough Mariology. In his youth he had met Polycarp and other Christians who had been in direct contact with the Apostles. Irenaeus sets out a forthright account of Mary's role in the economy of salvation.

  • Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin... By disobeying, Eve became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way Mary, though she had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.[3]

According to Irenaeus, Christ, being born out of the Virgin Mary, created a totally new historical situation.[4] This view influences later Ambrose of Milan and Tertullian, who wrote about the virginal conception by the Mother of God. The giver of new birth had to be born in a totally new way. What was lost through a woman, is now saved by a woman.[5]

Ambrose of Milan

Saint Ambrose of Milan (339–397) is an early Church Father whose powerful Mariology influenced contemporary Popes like Pope Damasus and Siricius and later, Pope Leo the Great. His student Augustine and the Council of Ephesus were equally under his influence. Central to Ambrose is the virginity of Mary and her role as Mother of God.

  • The virgin birth is worthy of God. Which human birth would have been more worthy of God, than the one, in which the Immaculate Son of God maintained the purity of his immaculate origin while becoming human? [6]
  • We confess, that Christ the Lord was born from a virgin, and therefore we reject the natural order of things. Because not from a man she conceived but from the Holy Spirit.[7]
  • Christ is not divided but one. If we adore him as the Son of God, we do not deny his birth from the virgin... But nobody shall extend this to Mary. Mary was the temple of God but not God in the temple. Therefore, only the one who was in the temple can be worshipped.[8]
  • Yes, truly blessed for having surpassed the priest (Zechariah). While the priest denied, the Virgin rectified the error. No wonder that the Lord, wishing to rescue the world, began his work with Mary. Thus she, through whom salvation was being prepared for all people, would be the first to receive the promised fruit of salvation.[9]

Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine (354–430) did not develop an independent Mariology, but his statements on Mary surpass in number and depths those of other early writers.[10] The Virgin Mary “conceived as virgin, gave birth as virgin and stayed virgin forever [11] Even before the Council of Ephesus, he defended the ever Virgin Mary as the mother of God, who, because of her virginity, is full of grace [12] She was free of any temporal sin,[13] Because of a woman, the whole human race was saved.[14]

Cyril of Alexandria

Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria (412–444) became famous in Church history, because of his spirited fight for the title “Mother of God” during the Council of Ephesus (431). His writings include the homily given in Ephesus and several other sermons.[15] Some of his alleged homilies are in dispute as to his authorship. In several writings, Cyril focuses on the love of Jesus for his mother. On the Cross, he overcomes his pain and thinks of his mother. At the Marriage at Cana, he bows to her wishes. The overwhelming merit of Cyril of Alexandria is the cementation of the centre of dogmatic Mariology for all times. He established the foundation for all other Mariological developments through his teaching of the blessed Virgin Mary, as the Mother of God.

Pope Leo the Great

Pope Leo the Great: What was taken from the mother of the Lord was the nature without the guilt
  • "The same eternal, only-begotten of the eternal begetter was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. His birth in time in no way subtracts from or adds to that divine and eternal birth of his: but its whole purpose is to restore humanity, who had been deceived, so that it might defeat death and, by its power, destroy the devil who held the power of death. Overcoming the originator of sin and death would be beyond us, had not he whom sin could not defile, nor could death hold down, taken up our nature and made it his own. He was conceived from the Holy Spirit inside the womb of the virgin mother. Her virginity was as untouched in giving Him birth as it was in conceiving Him."
  • "And the fact that the birth was miraculous does not imply that in the Lord Jesus Christ, born from the virgin's womb, the nature is different from ours. The same one is true God and true man."[16][17]

For Leo the Great, Mariology is determined by Christology. If Christ were divine only, everything in him would be divine. His eating would be only symbolism. Only his divinity would have been crucified, buried and resurrected. Mary would only be the mother of God, and Christians would have no hope for their own resurrection. The nucleus of Christianity would be destroyed.[18] He asks for the veneration of the Virgin Mary both at the manger and at the throne of the Heavenly Father. The most unusual beginning of a truly human life through her was to give birth to Jesus, the Lord and Son of King David.[19]

Saints of the Middle Ages

Bernard of Clairvaux

The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolommeo, c. 1504 (Uffizi).

In his encyclical Doctor Mellifluus on Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Pope Pius XII quotes three central elements of Bernard’s Mariology: How he explained the virginity of Mary, the “Star of the Sea", how the faithful should pray to the Virgin Mary, and, how Bernard relied on the Virgin Mary as Mediatrix.

  • Mary . . . is interpreted to mean 'Star of the Sea.' This admirably befits the Virgin Mother. There is indeed a wonderful appropriateness in this comparison of her with a star, because as a star sends out its rays without harm to itself, so did the Virgin bring forth her Child without injury to her integrity. And as the ray does not diminish the rightness of the star, so neither did the Child born of her tarnish the beauty of Mary's virginity. [20]
  • When the storms to temptation burst upon you, when you see yourself driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look at the star, call upon Mary. When swallowed by pride or ambition, or hatred, or jealousy, look at the star, call upon Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary. If troubled on account of the heinousness of your sins, distressed at the filthy state of your conscience, and terrified at the thought of the awful judgment to come, you are beginning to sink into the bottomless gulf of sadness and to be swallowed in the abyss of despair, then think of Mary. In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name leave thy lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. [21]

Theologically, Bernard, a Doctor of the Church, is a fervent supporter of the Mediatrix interpretation of Mary. God and World meet in her.[22] Divine life flows through her to the whole creation. She is one with Jesus, who wants to save all and who passes all graces through her.[23] She is the mediatrix to God, the ladder on which sinners may climb up to him, the royal road to him, because she is full of grace[24]

  • It is the will of God that we should have nothing, which has not passed through the hands of Mary." It is the will of God, Who would have us obtain everything through the hands of Mary. [25]

Anthony of Padua

The many sermons of Saint Anthony of Padua (1195–1231) on the Virgin Mary reflect his belief in various Marian doctrines that were declared as dogmas centuries after his death. He reflected on the Assumption of Mary and referring to Psalm 132 argued that, just as Jesus had risen up to Heaven, so did Mary.[26][27]

He also supported Mary's freedom from sin and her Immaculate Conception.[28][29] Given that Anthony was one of the best educated and articulate of the early Franciscans, he was treated as a Doctor of the Church by his order, even before the title was granted to him in 1946.

Petrus Canisius

Saint Petrus Canisius contributed to the Hail Mary prayer.

Saint Petrus Canisius (1521–1597) taught that while there are many roads leading to real Jesus Christ, Marian veneration is the best way to him. Canisius tried to show practical and pragmatic rationale for Marian devotion and defended it against opposing Protestant arguments. His sermons and letters document a clear preoccupation with Marian veneration.[30] His lasting contribution to this "applied mariology" are his three catechisms, which he published in Latin and German, and which became widespread and popular in Catholic regions. Under the heading "prayer" he explains the Ave Maria, Hail Mary, as the basis for Catholic Marian piety.[31] Less known are his Marian books, in which he published prayers and contemplative texts.

Canisius published an applied Mariology for preachers, in which Mary is described in tender and warm words.[32] He actively promoted the sodalities of our Lady and the rosary associations. He is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence

  • Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.

This sentence appeared for he first time in his catechism of 1555.[33] It was eleven years later included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566.

Theologically, Canisius defended Catholic Mariology, in his 1577 book, De Maria Virgine Incomparabili et Dei Genitrice Sacrosancta Libri Quinque. The book was ordered by Pope Pius V to present a factual presentation of the Catholic Marian teachings in the Bible, the early Christians, the Church Fathers and contemporary theology. Canisius explains and documents Church teachings through the ages regarding the person and character of Mary, her virtues and youth.[34] He traces historical documents about the perpetual virginity of Mary, and her freedom from sin.[35] He explains the dogma of "Mother of God" with numerous quotations from the fathers after the Council of Ephesus. He shows that Church teaching has not changed.[36] He answers the sola Scriptura arguments of Protestants by analyzing the biblical basis for mariology.[37] Book five explains the Catholic view of the assumption as living faith for centuries, supported by most proment Church writers. In addition he justifies the cult of Mary within the Catholic Church.

"Petrus Canisius provided a classical defence of the whole Catholic mariology against Protestantism", as judged three hundred years later by a leading Catholic theologian.[38] From today's perspective, Canisius clearly erred in some of his sources, but, because of his factual analysis of original sources, he represents one of the best theological achievements in the 16th century.[39]

Jean Eudes

Jean Eudes (1601–1680) introduced the joint devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He established Society of the Heart of the Mother Most Admirable, which resembled the Third Order of Saint Francis. Although Jean Eudes always associated the two Sacred Hearts, he began his devotional teachings with the Heart of Mary, and then extended it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.[40] Eudes was partly influenced by the writings of Saint Francis de Sales on the perfections of the Heart of Mary as the model of love for God.[41]

Jean Eudes organized the scriptural, theological and liturgical sources relating to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and promoted them with the approbation of the Church. The feast of the Holy Heart of Mary was celebrated for the first time in 1648, and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1670. The Mass and Office proper to these feasts were composed by Saint Jean Eudes in 1668, briefly preceding Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque in establishing the devotion to the Sacred Hearts. He composed various prayers and rosaries to the Sacred Hearts. His book "Le Cœur Admirable de la Très Sainte Mère de Dieu" is the first book ever written on the devotion to the Sacred Hearts.[42][43][44]

Louis de Montfort

Saint Louis de Montfort (1673–1716), was an effective defender of Mariology against Jansenism whose True Devotion to Mary synthesizes many of the earlier saints' writings and teachings on Mary. Saint Louis de Montfort's approach of "total consecration to Jesus Christ through Mary" had a strong impact on Marian devotion both in popular piety and in the spirituality of religious institutes. Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the pontiff's personal motto "Totus Tuus" was inspired by Saint Louis' doctrine on the excellence of Marian devotion and total consecration, which he quoted:

Since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ."

In an address to the Montfortian Fathers, the pontiff also said that his reading the saint's work The True Devotion to Mary was a "decisive turning point" in his life.

Saint Louis de Montfort's book The Secret of the Rosary has been widely read by Catholics worldwide for over two centuries and is one of the earliest works to strengthen the devotional components of modern Mariology.

Alphonsus Liguori

Madonna painted by St. Alphonsus Liguori, c. 1718

Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787) a Doctor of the Church, wrote The Glories of Mary, Marian Devotions, Prayers to the Divine Mother, Spiritual Songs, Visitations to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Virgin Mary, The True Spouse of Jesus Christ, and other writings. He was of great influence on Mariology during the Age of Enlightenment. His often ardent Marian enthusiasm contrasts with the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment. Liguori promoted a maximalist Mariology and expressed the belief in the general mediation of grace through Mary. This work was used by preachers. Mainly pastoral in nature, his Mariology rediscovers, integrates and defends the Mariology of Augustine and Ambrose and other fathers and represents an intellectual defence of Mariology in the eighteenth century.[45]

Liguori also promoted the doctrine of the bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven, arguing that Jesus would not have wanted his mother's body corrupted in flesh, for that would have been a dishonour, given that he had himself been born of the Virgin, and hence Mary must have been assumed into Heaven.[46]

19th–20th centuries

Maximillian Kolbe

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Apostle of Consecration to Mary, composed the Immaculata prayer of consecration.[47][48]

In 1915, while still in seminary, Saint Maximillian Kolbe (1894–1941) and six other students started the Militia Immaculatae to promote the Immaculate Conception, partly relying on the 1858 messages of Our Lady of Lourdes. He argued that since Mary is Immaculate, by her very nature she is the perfect instrument of the Holy Spirit in the mediation of all graces, given that "every grace is a gift of the Father through his Son by the Holy Spirit".

Like Louis de Montfort, Kolbe emphasized the renewal of the baptismal promises by making a total consecration to the Immaculata, which he considered the most perfect means of achieving unity with Jesus.[49][50][51]

Kolbe later founded the monastery of Immaculate City and continued publishing Militia Immaculatae in multiple languages, which eventually reached a circulation of 750,000 copies a month, until it was stopped when Kolbe was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he volunteered to die in place of another prisoner. Kolbe's efforts in promoting consecration to the Immaculata made him known as the "Apostle of Consecration to Mary".[47][52]

See also


  1. Msgr. Charles Mangan in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, seminarians, and Consecrated Persons ISBN 1-57918-355-7, 2008 edited by M. Miravalle, pages 520-529
  2. Medieval Italy: an encyclopedia, Volume 1 by Christopher Kleinhenz 2003 ISBN 0-415-93930-5 page 40
  3. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haereses 3:22
  4. Irenaeus, Book V, 19,3
  5. Tertullian, De Carne Christi 17
  6. Ambrose of Milan CSEL 64, 139
  7. Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis, 59, PG 16, 410
  8. Ambrose of Milan, De Spiritu Sancto, III, 11,79-80
  9. Ambrose of Milan, Expositio in Lucam 2, 17; PL 15, 1640
  10. O Stegmüller, in Marienkunde, 455
  11. De Saca virginitate 18
  12. De Sacra Virginitate, 6,6, 191.
  13. but theologians disagree as to whether Augustine considered Mary free of original sin as well. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventura Hugo Rahner against Henry Newman and others
  14. Per feminam mors, per feminam vita De Sacra Virginitate,289
  15. PG 76,992 , Adv. Nolentes confiteri Sanctam Virginem esse Deiparem PG 76, 259
  16. Acta conciliorum Oecumenicorum, Vol. II,2,1,Nr.5 PL 54
  18. PL 54, 221, C 226
  19. Sermons, 9,PL54, 227,CF,and 205 BC
  20. Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31
  21. Hom. II super "Missus est," 17; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 70-b, c, d, 71-a. Quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31
  22. PL 138, 328
  23. PL 138, 441
  24. PL 183, 43
  25. Bernard of Clairvaux, Serm. in Nat, Mariae, 7; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 441-b. Pius XII, Doctor Mellifluus 30
  26. The mystery of Mary by Paul Haffner 2004 ISBN 0-85244-650-0 page
  27. Burke, Raymond L.; et al. (2008). Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons ISBN 978-1-57918-355-4 page 335-338
  28. St. Anthony of Padua: Doctor of the Church Universal Raphael Mary Huber 1948 ISBN 1-4367-1275-0 page 31
  29. Raphael M. Huber, “The Mariology of St. Anthony of Padua,” in Studia Mariana 7, Proceedings of the First Franciscan National Marian Congress in Acclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption, October 8–11, 1950 Burlington, Wisconsin
  30. Stegmüller, 1052.
  31. Streicher, 95,245,267
  32. Meditaciones, 1591-1593
  33. Streicher Catechismi, I, 12
  34. in Book One
  35. in Book Two
  36. Book Three
  37. Book Four
  38. Scheeben, Handbuch der kath. Dogmatic, 1882, 478
  39. Otto Stegmüller 1063
  40. Life Of The Venerable John Eudes by Charles De Montzey, Cousens Press 2008, ISBN 1-4097-0537-4 page 215
  41. Mary's Immaculate Heart by John F. Murphy 2007 ISBN 1-4067-3409-8 page 24
  42. Roman Catholic worship: Trent to today by James F. White 2003 ISBN 0-8146-6194-7 page 34
  43. From Trent to Vatican II: historical and theological investigations by Raymond F. Bulman, Frederick J. Parrella 2006 ISBN 0-19-517807-6 page 182
  44. Praying with the saints by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker 2001 ISBN 0-8294-1755-9 page 134
  45. P Hitz, Alfons v. Liguori, in Marienkunde, 1967 130
  46. Burke, Raymond L.; et al. (2008). Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons ISBN 978-1-57918-355-4 page 338
  47. 47.0 47.1 The Franciscan Tradition by Regis J. Armstrong, Ingrid J. Peterson, Phyllis Zagano 2010 ISBN 0-8146-3030-8 page 51
  48. University of Dayton
  49. Miravalle, Mark Introduction to Mary 1993, ISBN 978-1-882972-06-7, pages 156-163
  50. The Catholic Church: the first 2,000 years by Martha Rasmussen 2003 ISBN 0-89870-969-5 page 261
  51. Encyclopedia of Catholicism by Frank K. Flinn, J. Gordon Melton 2007 ISBN 0-8160-5455-X pages 409-410
  52. EWTN


  • Saint Louis de Montfort True Devotion to Mary ISBN 1-59330-470-6, also available as online text [1]
  • Michael Schmaus, Mariologie, Katholische Dogmatik, München Vol V, 1955
  • K Algermissen, Boes, Egelhard, Feckes, Michael Schmaus, Lexikon der Marienkunde, Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 1967
  • Petrus Canisius, (Ed Bourassee) De Maria Virgine Incomparabili et Dei Genitrice Sacrosancta Libri, 1577 Quinque. Paris, 1862
  • Petrus Canisius, ( ed Friedrich Streicher), S P C CATECHISMI Latini et Germanici, I, Roma, Munich, 1933
  • Edward John Carney, The Mariology of St. Francis de Sales 1963 ASIN B0006CWCFS
  • Petrus Canisius, ( ed Friedrich Streicher), Meditaciones seunatae in evangelicas lectiones, 1591.1593, (Fribourg, Switzerland, 1939,1955)
  • Otto Stegmüller, Petrus Canisius, in: Marienkunde, Regensburg, 1967


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