Rorate Caeli

Our Lady left behind: The Marian Question in Vatican II
First part

The Marian question in Vatican II

Carlo Maratta
Virgin with Child in Glory
Museo del Prado

a)“Maximalists” and “Minimalists” in the Council [119]

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 be 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 graces [121].

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 1958 [122], two tendencies had emerged among Mariologists:  the maximalist,  which made all the privileges of Mary descend from Her Divine Maternity, i.e. from the hypostastic order [123], and the minimalist, according to which Mariology would have its foundation in the parallelism between Mary and the Church [124]. 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 Balić [125], President from 1960 of the International Pontifical Marian Academy and Father Gabriele Maria Roschini, Dean of the Marianum in Rome.

Carlo Balić, 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 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].
Fr. Carlo Balić, OFM

On the contrary, Mons. Antonio Piolanti, recalls Balić 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 Balić, an extensive bibliography, including an impressive treatise and a complete Dictionary of Mariology [131], 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]

Balić 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 Balić, 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 Father Yves Congar defined as “Marian-Christianity” [134].  On the evening of September 22, 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 is attributed the merit of opening “the battle against the maximalists” in the Council [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].

b) The campaign against the “maximalists” begins

The signal of the attack against the maximalists was the publication of the book (with the proximity of  the Second Session [1963-1964]) La question mariale [138], 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 Virgin [141]. This tendency needed to be purified in order to render it compatible with the demands of ecumenism and the new theology.
Fr. René Laurentin

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, a theologian and a journalist, was well acquainted with. Laurentin’s book was meticulously refuted by a great mariologist, Father de Aldama [143], at the request of Father Balić 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 movement [145].  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 German lawyer Adam Widenfeld (1645-1680) who, three centuries earlier, had attacked the 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 doubt the faith about the Divine Maternity, even identifying the Most Blessed 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 Caeli 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 compromising ecumenism. The same minimalist line will be shared by Paul VI. His last intervention during the work done by the preliminary Committee was on June 20, 1962, when he sided with Cardinal Liénart against the proposal to confer the title of “Mediatrix [150] to the Virgin, and who had defined it as “inopportune and even detrimental”. Father Bevilaqua confided to Bp. Helder Camara: “I attract the Pope’s attention every time I see a good book like La question mariale by René Laurentin or also the books on the Council written by Hans Küng. He loves Rahner and Häring a lot. And so do I [151]”. “The stronghold of reaction – noted Bp. Helder Camara – is being transformed little by little” [152].

[Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican Council – a never before written history) Chapter IV - 1963 THE SECOND SESSION - No. 6 – The Marian Question, pages 314-324.]

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]


119 R.Laurentin. La Vierge au Concile: presentation, texte et traduction du chapitre VIII de la Constitution dogmatique Lumen Gentium consacrè à la Vierge Marie dans le mystère de l’Eglise, Lethielleaux, Parigi 1965 (Our Lady in Vatican II, Centre of Ecumenical Studies John XXIII, Bergamo, 1965); G:M.Besutti o.s.m. News notes on the Second Vatican Council and the Scheme “De Beata Maria Virgine”, in “Marianum”, no. 26 (1964), pp.1-42;ID., The Marian scheme at Vatican Council II. Documentation and news notes , in “Marianum” no.28 (1966), pp1-203; CANDIDO POZO, The Mariological Doctrine of  Vatican Council II, in Maria en la obra de la salvaciòn, BAC, Madrid 1974, pp. 19-56; ERMANNO M. TONIOLO, The Blessed Virgin Mary in. Vatican Council II.Chronicle of Chapter VIII of the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium” a synopsis of all reports, Centre Mrian Culture Mother of the Churh, Rome 2004; C.ANTONELLI, The debate on Maria at the Second Vatican Council, Edizioni Messaggero, Padua 2009.                                                                                          120 The origins of the “Marian Movement” in its modern phase went back to the apostolate of St Louis Maria Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) with his treatise On True Devotion to the Holy Virgin (published for the first time in 1842) and of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) with his The Glories of Mary (1750).                                                                                                                                   121 On the mediation of Mary the study of Father ALESSANDRO M. APOLLONIO f.i.., The Most Blessed Mary Mediatrix of all graces. The nature of the Blessed Virgin’s influence on the work of the Redemption, in” Immaculata Mediatrix”, n. VII/2 (2007) pp.157-181.                                        
122 The acts were published by ACADEMIA MARIANA INTERNATIONALIS, with the title Maria et Ecclesia, Acta Congressus Mariologici  - Mariani civitate Lourdes , anno 1958 celebrati, in 16 volumes (Rome 1959-1962). On this occasion Father Gabriel Maria Roschini had presented a fundamental study on the mediation of Mary: De natura influxus B.M. Virginis in applicazione redemptionis, ibid, vol II, De munere et loco quem tenet Beata Virgo Maria in corpora Christi mistico (1959), pp. 223-295.                                                                                                                                    123 M.J. NICOLAS, L’appartenance de la Mère de Dieu à l’ordre hypostatique, in “Etudes Mariales”, no. 3 (1937) pp. 145-181.                                                                                                                 124 F. COURTH, Heinrich Maria Koster (1911-1993). Forcher und Kunder Mariens, in “Marianum”, no.55 (1993), pp.429-459; MANFRED HAUKE Introduzione alla mariologia, Eupress FTL, Lugano 2008, pp. 92-93; C. POZO, la doctrina mariologica, cit.                                                                                      125 Carlo Balić (1899-1977), Croatian, of the Friars Minor Order. Ordained in 1927, was professor and rector of the Pontifcio Ateneo Antonianum, president of the Commission for the crItical edition of the works of Duns Scotus, founder and president of the Pontifical Marian International Academy, consultant to the Holy Office, conciliar expert.  On him: J.A. DE ALDAMA s.j., Semblanza del P. Carlos Balić ofm (1899-1977), in “Antonianum” no.52 (1977) pp. 702-707; P. Carlo Balić o.f.m.Profilo, impressioni, ricordi (Profile, impressions and remembrances) by P. PAOLO MELADA o.f.m., - P. DINKO ARACIC’ , Pontifical Marian International Academy, Rome, 1978; La dottrina mariologica negli scritti di Caro Balić, (Mariological Doctrine in the writings of Carlo Balić), Pontifical Marian International Academy, Rome, 1980.                                                                                                                                            126 Congar, Diary, vol.I p. 111                                                                                                                                                                                               127 Ibid, p.112                                                                                                                                                                     128 Ibid, vol.II,p.76.                                                                                                                                                          129 Ibid, p.147                                                                                                                                                                 130 A. PIOLANTI, Abisso dei contrasti,  in P.Carlo Balić o.f.m. Profilo, impressioni ricordi, p.192.                                                        131 G.M.ROSCHINI o.s.m., Dizionario di Mariologia, Studium, Rome 1960.                                                                              132 On his role at the Council, P.PARROTTA,op.cit.pp.54-62.                                                                                                           133 A. PIOLANTI, P. Carlo Balić o.f.m., Profilo, Impressioni, ricordi, cit..pp.191-192.                                                                            
134 Letter to the Marist Maurice Villian, 23rd November 1950, E. FOUILLAUX, La fase antepreparatoria (1969-1960). Il lento dell’uscita dell’inerzia, in SCV, vol.I, p.97. (the slow start in coming out of inertia in SVC).                                                                                                                                                        135 Congar, Diary, vol, p.113.                                                                                                                                                  136 Ibid.                                                                                                                                                                           137 Ibid.                                                                                                                                                                                 138 R. Laurentin, La question mariale, Ed. du Seuil, Paris 1963.                                                                                                                              139 Ibid. p.37                                                                                                                                                                        140 Ibid.                                                                                                                                                                       141 Ibid. p.24                                                                                                                                                                        142 Ibid. p.81                                                                                                                                                                     143 J.A. DE ALDAMA s.j.  – De questioni mariali in hodierna  vita Ecclesiae, Pontifical Marian International Academy, Rome 1964.                                                                                                                 144 G.M. ROSCHINIo.s.m., La cosidetta “questione mariana”, S. Giuseppe, Vicenza 1963.                                                        145 J.A. DE ALDAMA s.j., De questioni mariali, cit. pp.2-35                                                                                                         146 Pius XII, Speech- Una ben intima gioia, of 10th March 1948 in AAS, 40 (1948), p.120.                                                            147 Pius XII, Speech – La Pentecòte of 29th May 1950, in AAS, 42 (1950), p. 483.                                                                        148 G. M: ROSCHINI o.s.m., La cosidetta “questione mariana” , cit. p.63.                                                                                         149 A. RONCALLI, Letter of 22nd April 1954 to the Secretariat of the Movement Pro Regalite Mariae, in ANGELINA e G. ALBERIGO, Giovanni XXIII. Profezia nella fedeltà, Queriniana, Brescia 1978, p.489. “Jesus dying – the Patriarch of Venice continued – said to John: Behold your Mother – this is sufficient for the faith and for the liturgy. The rest may be edifying (and it is mostly) and for many pious and  devout souls, moving;  but for many, many more, even if they are well-inclined towards the Catholic Church  - it is irritating – and as we say these days –  counter-productive” (ibid).                                                                                                                                                                     150 AD (Acta et Documenta Concilio Oecumenico Vatican II apparando, Typis Vaticanis, Citta del Vaticano 1960-1964) II-II/4, p.777.                                                                                                                                                                                                    151 Camara, Lettres Conciliaires, Vol. II, P.583.                                                                                                                      152 Ibid, vol. I. P.342.