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Catholic Mariology is the area of theology concerned with Mary, the Mother of God, not only with her life, but her veneration in daily life, prayer, art,music, and architecture.

Throughout history numerous Roman Catholic saints have attested to the central role of Mary in God's plan of salvation and have contributed to the growth of Mariology. This article reviews the Mariology of the saints, as a force that has shaped and transformed our current understanding of Marian dogmas, doctrines and devotions.

Madonna and Child with saints by Duccio, 14th century.

How the saints shaped Mariology

Beyond the teachings of the early Church Fathers, the growth of Mariology over the centuries has taken a somewhat unique path among other areas of theology in that it has been shaped by the interplay of three separate forces:

  • Papal directives and teachings of the Holy See.
  • Popular Catholic sentiments, devotions and sensus fidelium.
  • Views, writings and religious experiences of the saints.

In many cases, the Mariological views of the Holy See have been gradually affected by sensus fidei which itself has been shaped by the writings of numerous saints throughout history who have attested to the central role of Mary in God's plan of salvation. Thus the saints have often acted as the force that drives sensus fidei which then affects Catholic teachings.

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A series of articles on
Roman Catholic
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General articles
MariologyVeneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of MariologyMariology of the saintsMariology of the popesMarian Movements & Societies

Rosary and ScapularImmaculate HeartSeven JoysSeven SorrowsFirst SaturdaysActs of Reparation

Dogmas and Doctrines

Mother of GodPerpetual virginityImmaculate ConceptionAssumptionMother of the ChurchMediatrixCo-Redemptrix

Expressions of devotion

Key Marian apparitions
(approved or worthy of belief)
GuadalupeMiraculous Medal
La SaletteLourdesPontmainLausBanneuxBeauraingFátimaAkita

Papal Bulls
Ineffabilis DeusMunificentissimus DeusBis Saeculari

Papal encyclicals
Redemptoris MaterAd Caeli ReginamFulgens CoronaDeiparae Virginis MariaeIngruentium MalorumAd Diem Illum

Papal Apostolic Letters and other teachings
Rosarium Virginis MariaeMarialis Cultus

Key Marian Feast Days
Dec 8 Immaculate ConceptionJan 1 Mother of GodMar 25 AnnunciationAug 15 Assumption

An example of this effect is the case of Saint Louis de Montfort. During his priesthood of only 16 years, he was mostly a missionary preacher who travelled from village to village on foot to deliver sermons, often risking everything along the way. His heated style of preaching and views were often the subject of serious criticism during his life. He was persecuted by the Holy Office, poisoned by critical locals and when he died in 1716 at age 43, each of the three congregations he left behind had but a handful of followers. When Blessed Marie Louise Trichet decided to join his order Daughters of Wisdom in 1700, her mother reportedly told her: "You will become as mad as that priest". Yet, over the centuries, de Montfort's Marian 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. The growth of his popularity and the spread of his approach of "total consecration to the Virgin Mary" was not driven from Rome but from the ground up as sensus fidelium gathered momentum in his favor. He was eventually declared a saint in 1947.

In recent years, one young seminarian who was affected by one of de Montfort's books said that he had "read and reread many times and with great spiritual profit" a work of de Montfort and it "had been a decisive turning point in his life". That young seminarian eventually became Pope John Paul II, based his personal motto "Totus Tuus" on de Montfort's influence, beatified Marie Louise Trichet and made a papal visit to pray on the tombs of Saint Louis and Blessed Marie Louise Trichet. Saint Louis is now a candidate to become a Doctor of the Church and his founders statue was recently placed in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.[1]

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.[2]

According to Irenaeus, Christ, being born out of the Virgin Mary, created a totally new historical situation.[3] This view influences later Ambrose of Milan and Tertullian, who wrote about the virgin birth of the Mother of God. The donor of a new birth had to be born in a totally new way. The new birth being that what was lost through a woman, is now saved by a woman.[4]

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? [5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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. [7]
  • 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.[8]

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.[9] The Virgin Mary “conceived as virgin, gave birth as virgin and stayed virgin forever [10] 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 [11] She was free of any temporal sin,[12] Because of a woman, the whole human race was saved.[13]

Cyril of Alexandria

The 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.[14] Some of his alleged homilies are in dispute as to his authorship. In several writings, Cyril focuses on the love of Jesus to 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 created the basis 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

Many early mariological concepts developed in the Eastern Church. From the West, Pope Damasus I and others defended Mary against Monophysitism, the teaching that Christ had only a divine nature. Accordingly, Mary is only the Mother of God, not the mother of the human Jesus. The most significant papal teaching opposing this view begin with Pope Martin I and continue with Pope Leo the Great. To define this issue, an ecumenical council was convoked first at Nicaea but later transferred to Chalcedon in the year 451. Leo the Great defended the teaching that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human.

  • "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."
  • "By an unprecedented kind of birth, because it was inviolable virginity which supplied the material flesh without experiencing sexual desire. What was taken from the mother of the Lord was the nature without the guilt. 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."[15][16]

To Leo the Great, Mariology is determined by Christology. If Christ would be divine only, everything on him would be divine. His eating would be 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.[17] 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.[18]

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, 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 on 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. [19]
  • 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. [20]

Theologically, Bernard, a Doctor of the Church, is a fervent supporter of the Mediatrix interpretation of Mary. God and World meet in her.[21] 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.[22] 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[23]

  • 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. [24]

Alphonsus Liguori

Alphonsus Liguori (1696.-1787) a Doctor of the Church, wrote the 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 flaming Marian enthusiasm contrasts with the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment. 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.[25]

Louis de Montfort

Saint Louis de Montfort, 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 orders. One of his well known followers was Pope John Paul II. According to his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the pontiff's personal motto "Totus Tuus" was inspired by St. 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 impacted Mariology not only at the papal level, but the popular level. His book The Secret of the Rosary (which is a multi-perspective approach to 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.


  2. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haereses 3:22
  3. Irenaeus, Book V, 19,3
  4. Tertullian, De Carne Christi 17
  5. Ambrose of Milan CSEL 64, 139
  6. Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis, 59, PG 16, 410
  7. Ambrose of Milan, De Spiritu Sancto, III, 11,79-80 [1]
  8. Ambrose of Milan, Expositio in Lucam 2, 17; PL 15, 1640
  9. O Stegmüller, in Marienkunde, 455
  10. De Saca virginitate 18
  11. De Sacra Virginitate, 6,6, 191.
  12. 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
  13. Per feminam mors, per feminam vita De Sacra Virginitate,289
  14. PG 76,992 , Adv. Nolentes confiteri Sanctam Virginem esse Deiparem PG 76, 259
  15. Acta conciliorum Oecumenicorum, Vol. II,2,1,Nr.5 PL 54
  17. PL 54, 221, C 226
  18. Sermons, 9,PL54, 227,CF,and 205 BC
  19. Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31
  20. Hom. II super "Missus est," 17; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 70-b, c, d, 71-a. Quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31
  21. PL 138, 328
  22. PL 138, 441
  23. PL 183, 43
  24. Bernard of Clairvaux, Serm. in Nat, Mariae, 7; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 441-b. Pius XII, Doctor Mellifluus 30
  25. P Hitz, Alfons v. Liguori, in Marienkunde, 1967 130

See also


  • Saint Louis de Montfort True Devotion to Mary ISBN 1593304706, also available as online text [2]
  • Michael Schmaus, Mariologie, Katholische Dogmatik, München Vol V, 1955
  • K Algermissen, Boes, Egelhard, Feckes, Michael Schmaus, Lexikon der Marienkunde, Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 1967

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