On December 23, 2000, The New York Times ran a cover story in its “Arts and Ideas” section on the Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici movement, which seeks the papal definition of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces and Advocate. This article was in turn reprinted in a great number of U.S. major newspapers, thereby sparking renewed and high-spirited debate internationally over the concept of Our Lady as “Co-redemptrix,” both inside and outside Catholic circles of thought.
Although diverse in their formulation, most objections to Our Lady’s title of Co-redemptrix and her subsequent role in Coredemption fall into the same foundational categories (many of which were debated in recent publications in response to The New York Times piece). There is a critical need to articulate to the general public (let alone to the growing genus of uncatechized Catholic faithful), the basic doctrinal truths contained in the Catholic Church’s use of Co-redemptrix and its ongoing discussion pertinent to a possible papal definition.
The call of the Second Vatican Council to “bring Christ to the world,” with an evangelical focus not simply within the confines of the Church, but to the world, applies as well to the Christian truth regarding the Mother of Christ. This conciliar call to proclaim Christian truth to the world, inclusive of Christian truth about Mary, is at the same time an evangelical call that must be free from any doctrinal compromise in presenting the entire doctrinal truth about Mary as officially taught by the Catholic Church—a doctrinal truth which essentially includes Marian co-redemption.
What follows then is a synthesis of seven common objections to Mary Co-redemptrix and the doctrinal role of Marian co-redemption, taken principally from recent publications, both secular and Christian. A fundamental summary response will be offered to each objection, with a general mind for the Catholic and non-Catholic reader alike. In an effort to allow each response to stand independently of the other responses, some content is repeated within responses where appropriate.
Objection 1. Calling Mary a “Co-redemptrix” places her on an equal level with Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God, making her something like a fourth person of the Trinity, a goddess or quasi-divine goddess, which is blasphemy for any true Christian.
The Catholic Church’s use of the title, “Co-redemptrix” as applied to the Mother of Jesus in no sense places Mary on a level of equality with Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer. There is an infinite difference between the divine person of Jesus Christ and the human person, Mary. Rather, papal teaching has used the title, “Co-redemptrix” to refer to the unique participation of the Mother of Jesus with and under her divine son in the work of human redemption.
The term, “co-redemptrix” is properly translated “the woman with the redeemer” or more literally “she who buys back with (the redeemer).” The prefix, “co,” comes from the Latin term, “cum,” which means “with” and not “equal to.” Co-redemptrix therefore as applied to Mary refers to her exceptional cooperation with and under her divine son, Jesus Christ in the redemption of the human family, as manifested in Christian Scripture.
With Mary’s free and active “fiat” to the invitation of the angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38), she uniquely cooperated with the work of redemption by giving the divine Redeemer his body, which was the very instrument of human redemption. “We have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10), and the body of Jesus Christ is given to him through the free, active, and unique cooperation of the Virgin Mary. By virtue of giving flesh to the “Word made flesh” (Jn.1:14), who in turn redeems humanity, the Virgin of Nazareth uniquely merits the title Co-redemptrix. In the words of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Of course Mary is the Co-redemptrix—she gave Jesus his body, and his body is what saved us.” (1)
The New Testament prophecy of Simeon in the temple also reveals the suffering, co-redemptive mission of Mary in direct union with her Redeemer son in their one unified work of redemption: “Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and will be a sign of contradiction, and a sword shall pierce through your own soul, too” (Lk. 2:34-35).
But the climax of Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix under her divine son takes place at the foot of the Cross, where the total suffering of the mother’s heart is obediently united to the suffering of the Son’s heart in fulfillment of the Father’s plan of redemption (cf. Gal 4:4). As the fruit of this redemptive suffering, Mary is given by the crucified Savior as the spiritual mother of all peoples, “Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘behold, your mother!” (Jn.19:27). As described by Pope John Paul II, Mary was “spiritually crucified with her crucified son” at Calvary, and “her role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son.” (2) Even after the accomplishment of the acquisition of the graces of redemption at Calvary, Mary’s co-redemptive role continues in the distribution of those saving graces to the hearts of humanity.
The earliest Christian writers and Fathers of the Church explained Marian co-redemption with great profundity in simplicity in the first theological model of Mary as the “New Eve.” Essentially, they articulated that as Eve, the first “mother of the living” (Gen. 3:20) was directly instrumental with Adam, the father of the human race, in the loss of grace for all humanity, so too Mary, the “New Eve,” was directly instrumental with Jesus Christ, whom St. Paul calls the “New Adam” (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-48), in the restoration of grace to all humanity. In the words of 2nd century Church Father, St. Irenaeus: “Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.” (3)
In light of her unique and direct cooperation with the Redeemer in the restoration of grace for the human family (cf. Gen. 3:15), Mary became universally known in the early Church as the “New Mother of the Living,” and her instrumental co-redemption with Christ was well summed in the succinct expression of 4th century Church Father, St. Jerome: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.” (4)
Explicit references to Marian co-redemption as Mary’s unique participation with and under Jesus Christ in redeeming or “buying back” humanity from the slavery of Satan and sin is present throughout Christian Tradition. For example, the 7th century Church writer, Modestus of Jerusalem, states that through Mary, we “are redeemed from the tyranny of the devil.” (5) St John Damascene (8th century) greets her: “Hail thou, through whom we are redeemed from the curse.” (6) St. Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century) preaches that, “through her, man was redeemed.” (7) The great Franciscan Doctor, St. Bonaventure (13th century) aptly summarizes Christian Tradition in this teaching: “That woman (namely Eve), drove us out of Paradise and sold us; but this one (Mary) brought us back again and bought us.” (8)
Although there was never any question of the total and radical dependency of the Virgin Mary’s participation in redemption upon the divine work and merits of Jesus Christ in the minds of the Church fathers and doctors, nonetheless early Christian Tradition did not hesitate to teach and preach the unparalleled intimate participation of the woman, Mary, in the “buying back” or redeeming of the human race from the slavery of Satan. As humanity was sold by a man and a woman, so it was God’s will that humanity would be bought back by a Man and a woman.
It is upon this rich Christian foundation that 20th century popes and saints have used the title Co-redemptrix for Mary’s unique role in human redemption, as exemplified in the contemporary use of Co-redemptrix for Mary by Pope John Paul II on at least six occasions during his present pontificate. (9) “Co-redemptrix” as used by the popes means no more that Mary is a goddess equal with Jesus Christ than St. Paul’s identification of all Christians as “God’s co-workers”(1 Cor. 3:9) means that Christians are gods equal to the one God.
All Christians are rightly called to be co-workers or “co-redeemers” with Jesus Christ (cf. Col. 1:24) in the reception and cooperation with grace necessary for our own redemption and the redemption of others—personal subjective redemption made possible by the historic objective redemption or “buying back” accomplished by Jesus Christ, the “New Adam,” the Redemptor, and Mary, the “New Eve,” the Co-redemptrix.
Objection 2: Calling the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Co-redemptrix” is against proper Christian ecumenism, as it leads to division between Catholics and other Christians.
Arguably the most commonly posed objection to the use of Co-redemptrix (let alone any potential definition of the doctrine) is its perceived opposition to Christian ecumenism. Therefore we must begin with an accurate definition of authentic Christian ecumenism and its appropriate corresponding activity as understood by the Catholic Church.
In his papal document on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, (“that they all may be one” Jn. 17:21), Pope John Paul II defines authentic Christian ecumenism in terms of prayer “as the soul” and dialogue “as the body” working towards the ultimate goal of true and lasting Christian unity. (10) At the same time, the Catholic imperative to work and strive for Christian unity does not permit in any degree the reduction or dilution of Catholic doctrinal teaching, as such would both lack Catholic integrity and concurrently be misleading in dialogue with other non-Catholic Christians as to what the Catholic Church truly believes.
As the Second Vatican Council clearly teaches in terms of ecumenical dialogue: “It is, of course, essential that doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false conciliatory approach which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its assured genuine meaning.” (11)
John Paul II further explains:
With regard to the study of areas of disagreement, the Council requires that the whole body of doctrine be clearly presented. At the same time, it asks that the manner and method of expounding the Catholic faith should not be a hindrance to dialogue with our brothers and sisters…Full communion of course will have to come about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy Spirit guides Christ’s disciples. Hence all forms of reductionism or facile “agreement” must be absolutely avoided. (12)
An accurate understanding then of ecumenism from the Catholic perspective is the critical Church mandate to pray, to dialogue, and to work together in charity and in truth in the seeking of true Christian unity among all brothers and sisters in Christ, but without any compromise in presenting the full doctrinal teachings of the Church. The present pope, so personally dedicated to authentic Christian unity, again affirms: “The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn.14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?” (13)
Let us now apply this understanding of ecumenism to the question of Mary Co-redemptrix. The Co-redemptrix title for Mary has been used in repeated papal teaching, and the doctrine of Marian co-redemption as Mary’s unique participation with and under Jesus Christ in the redemption of humanity constitutes the repeated doctrinal teaching of the Second Vatican Council:
…She devoted herself totally, as handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God. Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. (14)
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. (15)
She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented Him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s suffering as He died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace. (16)
Thereby, there is no question that Marian Co-redemption constitutes the doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church and as such must be presented in any true articulation of Catholic teaching, which critically includes the domain of true ecumenical dialogue.
To therefore claim that Mary Co-redemptrix in title and doctrine is in any way contrary to the ecumenical mission of the Church is fundamentally to misunderstand the ecumenical mission of the Church itself. Full Catholic doctrine, including the doctrine of Marian co-redemption, must be included for any true dialogue seeking Christian unity. Moreover, the purposeful absence of Mary Co-redemptrix in full ecumenical dialogue and in the overall ecumenical mission of the Church would lack integrity and justice for the Catholic ecumenist towards non-Catholic Christians who have presumably, on their part, brought the full teachings of their particular ecclesial body to the tables of dialogue. To return to the Christian admonition of John Paul II: “In the Body of Christ, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn.14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?” (17)
Therefore calling the Blessed Virgin Mary a “Co-redemptrix” in light of Christian Scripture and Christian Tradition is in no sense contrary to ecumenism, but rather constitutes an essential element of the Christian integrity demanded by true ecumenism, since Marian Co-redemption constitutes a doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church.
In fact, if the doctrine of Co-redemptrix presently constitutes a source of confusion for some Christians, connoting for some an image of goddess or other concepts of Marian excesses, then it appears all the more appropriate that a clear articulation of this Marian doctrine be given to brother and sister Christians in ecumenical dialogue. There is also the potential benefit of a formal papal definition providing the greatest possible clarity from the highest possible Catholic authority. In the words of the late John Cardinal O’Connor of New York: “Clearly, a formal papal definition would be articulated in such precise terminology that other Christians would lose their anxiety that we do not distinguish adequately between Mary’s unique association with Christ and the redemptive power exercised by Christ alone.” (18)
Another legitimate ecumenical perspective on Marian co-redemption and her subsequent spiritual motherhood is that as spiritual mother of all peoples, Mary can be a principal means of Christian unity among divided Christian brothers and sisters, rather than being its prime obstacle. Lutheran pastor, Rev. Dr. Charles Dickson, calls on Protestant Christianity to re-examine the documented positive Marian defense and devotion of many of its own founders, as manifested, for example, in the words of Martin Luther in his Commentary on the Magnificat: “May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers…May Christ grant us a right understanding…through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary….” (19) Luther goes on to call Mary the “workshop of God,” the “Queen of heaven,” and states: “The Virgin Mary means to say simply that her praise will be sung from one generation to another so that there will never be a time when she will not be praised.” (20)
On the role of Mary’s universal spiritual motherhood as an instrument of Christian unity, Dr. Dickson comments further:
In our time, we are still faced with the tragic divisions among the world’s Christians. Yet, standing on the brink of a bright new ecumenical age, Mary as model of catholicity, or universality, becomes even more important. In the course of many centuries from the beginning of the Church, from the time of Mary and the Apostles, the motherhood of the Church was one. This fundamental motherhood cannot vanish, even though divisions occur. Mary, through her motherhood, maintains the universality of Christ’s flock. As the entire Christian community turns to her, the possibility of a new birth, a reconciliation, increases. So Mary, the mother of the Church, is also a source of reconciliation among her scattered and divided children. (21)
Objection 3: Calling the Mother of Jesus, “Co-redemptrix” or her subsequent role as “Mediatrix” implies a role of mediation by someone other than Jesus Christ, but scripture plainly states in 1 Timothy 2:5 that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” and therefore no creature can rightly be a mediator.
The definition of “mediator”—in Greek, mesitis, or “go-between”—is a person who intervenes between two other persons or parties for the goal of uniting or reconciling the parties. Applying this term to Jesus Christ, St. Paul indeed states that there is one mediator between the parties of God and humanity, namely the ‘man Christ Jesus.” No one therefore reaches God the Father except through the one, perfect mediation of Jesus Christ.
But the question still remains, does the one perfect mediation of Jesus Christ prevent or rather provide for others to subordinately participate in the one mediation of Jesus Christ? In other words, does the one exclusive mediation of Christ prevent any creature from participating in that one essential mediation? Or does its divine and human perfection allow others to share in his one mediation in a subordinate and secondary way?
Christian Scripture offers examples similar to this question of mediation where Christians are obliged to participate in something that is also “one,” exclusive, and dependent entirely on the person of Jesus Christ.
The one Sonship of Jesus Christ. There is only one true Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was begotten from God the Father (1 Jn. 1-4). But all Christians are called to participate in the one true sonship of Jesus Christ by becoming “adopted sons” in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Jn. 3:1; Gal. 2:20), as a true sharing in the one sonship of Christ through baptism which allows adopted sons and daughters to also share in the inheritance of the one Son, that of everlasting life.
Living in the One Christ. All Christians are called to share in the “one life” of Jesus Christ, for grace is to participate in the life and the love of Jesus Christ, and through him in the life and love of the Trinity. As St. Paul teaches, “it is not I, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) and 2 Peter 1:4 calls Christians to become “partakers of the divine nature,” to live in the one Christ, and thus in the life of the Trinity.
The one Priesthood of Jesus Christ. All Christians are also called to share in different degrees in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews identifies Jesus Christ as the one “high priest” (cf. Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 5:10) who offers the great spiritual sacrifice of himself on Calvary. And yet Scripture calls all Christians, albeit on different levels of participation, ministerial (cf. Acts 14:22) or royal (cf.1 Pet. 2:9), to participate in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ in offering “spiritual sacrifice.” All Christians are instructed to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet. 2:5, 2:9).
In all these cases, the New Testament calls Christians to share in that which is one and unique of Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, in true though completely subordinate levels of participation. In reference, then, to Christ the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5), we see the same Christian imperative for others to share or participate in the one mediation of Jesus Christ, but in a secondary mediation entirely dependent upon the one perfect mediation of Jesus Christ.
The pivotal christological question must then be asked: Does such subordinate sharing in the one mediation of Christ obscure the one mediation of Christ, or rather does it manifest the glory of his one mediation? This is easily answered by imagining a contemporary world without “adopted sons and daughters in Christ,” without Christians today sharing in the one life of Jesus Christ in grace, or without any Christians offering spiritual sacrifices in the Christian priesthood. Such an absence of human participation would only result in obscuring the one Sonship, the one High Priesthood, and the very Life of grace in Jesus Christ.
The same principle is true regarding participation in the one mediation of Jesus Christ in a dependent and subordinate way: the more human participation in the one mediation of Christ, the more the perfection, power, and glory of the unique and necessary mediation of Jesus Christ is manifested to the world.
Christian Scripture moreover offers several examples of God-instituted human mediators who cooperated by divine initiative in uniting humanity with God. The great prophets of the Old Testament were God-ordained mediators between Yahweh and the people of Israel, oftentimes seeking to return the people of Israel to their fidelity to Yahweh (cf. Is. 1; Jer. 1: Ez. 2). The Old Testament patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, etc., were at God’s initiative the human mediators of the saving covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel (cf. Gen 12:2; 15:18; Ex. 17:11). St. Paul identifies Moses’ mediation of the law to the Israelites: ” Why then the law? It was ordained by God through an intermediary” (Gal 3:19-20). And the angels, with hundreds of mediating acts spanning Old and New Testaments, are God’s messengers, who mediate for reconciliation between God and the human family, both before and after the coming of Christ, the one Mediator (cf. Gen. 3:24; Lk. 1:26; Lk. 1:19).
Now regarding Mary, Christian Scripture also clearly reveals the secondary and subordinate participation of the Mother of Jesus in the one mediation of Jesus Christ. At the Annunciation, Mary’s free and active “yes” to the invitation of the angel mediates to the world Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world and the Author of all graces (cf. Lk. 1:38). For this unique participation in giving to the Redeemer his body and mediating the Source of all graces to the world, Mary can rightly be called both “Co-redemptrix” and “Mediatrix of all graces” as one who uniquely shares in the one mediation of Jesus Christ.
This unique Marian participation in Christ’s mediation, specific to the Redemption of Jesus Christ, is climaxed at Calvary. At the cross, her spiritual suffering united to the redemptive sacrifice of her Son, as the New Eve with the New Adam, leads to the universal spiritual fruits of the acquisition of the graces of redemption, which, in turn, leads to the gift of spiritual motherhood from the heart of the Crucified Christ to every human heart: “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:27). The Redeemer’s gift of his own mother as spiritual mother to all humanity leads to the spiritual nourishment by the Mother to her children in the order of grace. This constitutes the distribution of the graces of Calvary by Mary to her spiritual children as Mediatrix of all graces, which perpetually continues her unique sharing in the one saving mediation of Jesus Christ.
John Paul II explains the Catholic understanding of this unique Marian participation in the one mediation of Jesus Christ:
Mary entered, in a way all her own, into the one mediation “between God and men” which is the mediation of the man Christ Jesus…. We must say that through this fullness of grace and supernatural life, she was especially pre-disposed to cooperation with Christ, the one Mediator of human salvation. And such cooperation is precisely this mediation subordinated to the mediation of Christ.
In Mary’s case, we have a special and exceptional mediation. (22)
And in his commentary on 1 Timothy 2:5 and Mary’s maternal mediation, John Paul II further states:
We recall that Mary’s mediation is essentially defined by her divine motherhood. Recognition of her role as mediatrix is moreover implicit in the expression “our Mother,” which presents the doctrine of Marian mediation by putting the accent on her motherhood…In proclaiming Christ the one mediator (cf. 1 Tim 2:5-6), the text of St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy excludes any other parallel mediation, but not subordinate mediation. In fact, before emphasizing the one exclusive mediation of Christ, the author urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men” (2:1). Are not prayers a form of mediation? Indeed, according to St. Paul, the unique mediation of Christ is meant to encourage other dependent, ministerial forms of mediation…In truth, what is Mary’s maternal mediation if not the Father’s gift to humanity? (23)
Therefore we can see Mary’s participation in the one mediation of Jesus Christ as unique and unparalleled by any other human or angelic participation, and yet entirely subordinate and dependent upon the one mediation of Jesus Christ. As such, Mary’s motherly mediation manifests the true glory and power of Christ’s mediation like no other. The Marian titles and roles of Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces (and Advocate as well) do not in any way violate the prohibition of 1 Tim. 2:5 against any parallel, autonomous, or rival mediation, but bespeak a unique and exceptional motherly participation in that one, perfect, and saving mediation of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Anglican Oxford scholar, Dr. John Macquarrie:
The matter (of Marian mediation) cannot be settled by pointing to the danger of exaggeration and abuse, or by appealing to isolated texts of scripture as the verse quoted above from 1 Timothy 2…or by the desire not to say anything that might offend one’s partners in ecumenical dialogue. Unthinking enthusiasts may have elevated Mary’s position to a virtual equality with Christ, but this aberration is not a necessary consequence of recognizing that there may be a truth striving for expression in words like Mediatrix and Co-redemptrix.
All responsible theologians would agree that Mary’s co-redemptive role is subordinate and auxiliary to the central role of Christ. But if she does have such a role, the more clearly we understand it, the better. And like other doctrines concerning Mary, it is not only saying something about her, but something more general about the Church as a whole, and even humanity as a whole. (24)
Objection 4: To call Mary a co-redemptrix or to call Christians in general “co-redeemers” is to have a human being actively participate in redemption, which is a divine or, more specifically, a “theandric” activity, accomplished by Jesus Christ in his divine and human natures alone, and thus forbidden by Christianity. Such would only encourage paganism, since it places a human person, Mary, as part of a divine redemptive action which only Jesus Christ can accomplish.
In many ways, the response to this objection can be found in the same foundational evidence from Christian Scripture that responds to the previous objection to any subordinate or human participation in the one mediation of Jesus Christ (a mediation which includes redemption). But let us example the specific objection regarding Mary’s active participation in the divine act of Redemption.
The full objection to Mary’s active participation as Co-redemptrix in the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ has been set out as follows. Theandric activity refers to an action by Jesus Christ that is accomplished through both of his natures, divine and human. Since the act of redemption by Jesus Christ was a theandric activity, and Mary was merely human, her actions were not theandric and therefore she cannot actively participate in redemption. Hence, Mary cannot be properly called a “co-redemptrix,” a term which means she “bought back” humanity with the Redeemer. Nor should any Christians be called “co-redeemers” since no creature can participate in theandric activity.
To best address this objection, we must return to the essential etymological meaning of the term, “co-redemptrix.” The Latin prefix, cum, means “with,” and not “equal to.” The Latin verb, re(d)-emere means, “to buy back,” and the suffix –trix, meaning “one who does something,” is feminine. In its complete form then, the term co-redemptrix refers to the “woman with the redeemer,” or more literally, “the woman who buys back with (the Redeemer).”
As used by the Catholic Church, the term co-redemptrix expresses Mary’s active and unique participation in the divine and human activity of redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. Again, radically dependent and subordinate to the theandric redemptive action of Jesus Christ, the very perfection of this divine and human redemption provides for, rather than prohibits, various levels of true and active human participation.
While it is legitimate to distinguish theandric actions from human actions, it runs contrary to Christian Scripture and Christian Tradition, both ancient and developed, to reject active human participation in the theandric activity of Jesus Christ.
To actively participate in a theandric action does not require that the participator also have a divine and human nature. Such is to misunderstand the distinction between “being” in possessing the essence and specific attribute as part of who you are, from “participation” in sharing in the essence and specific attribute as possessed by another. Thus, Mary as a human creature can actively share in the theandric redemptive action of Jesus Christ without herself possessing the essence of divinity as a specific attribute. In a similar way, all Christians share in the divine nature of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Pet 1:4), without being gods; participate in the sonship of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 4:4) without being divinely begotten; share in the mediation of Christ (cf. Gal 3:19, 1 Tim 2:1) without being the one divine and human Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
Once again, Christian Scripture attests to Mary’s singular active participation in the Redemption of Jesus Christ. With Mary’s free and active “fiat” to the invitation of the angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38), she uniquely cooperated with the work of redemption by giving the divine Redeemer his body, which was the very instrument of human redemption. The prophecy of Simeon reveals the unparalleled co-redemptive mission of Mary in direct union with her Redeemer son in their one unified work of redemption, “and a sword shall pierce your own soul, too” (Lk. 2:34-5). And the climax of Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix with and under her divine Son takes place at the foot of the Cross, where the total suffering of the mother’s heart is obediently united to the suffering of the Son’s heart in fulfillment of God the Father’s plan of redemption: “Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘behold, your mother!” (Jn. 19:27).
The earliest Christian writers and Fathers of the Church explained Marian participation with and under Christ in “buying back” the human family from the slavery of Satan and sin in the first theological model of Mary as the “New Eve.” These ancient writers attested to the unity of Redemption by Christ and co-redemption by Mary by articulating that as Eve, the first “mother of the living”(Gen. 3:20) was an instrumental cause with Adam, the father of the human race in the loss of grace for all humanity, so too Mary, the “New Eve” was an instrumental cause with Jesus Christ, the “New Adam” (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 45-48, 20-25), in the restoration of grace to all humanity.
In the words of St. Irenaeus: “Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a virgin, Mary… became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.” (25)
Explicit teachings of Mary’s active participation with Jesus Christ in redeeming or “buying back” humanity from the slavery of Satan and sin are present throughout early and later Christian Tradition, for example:
Through Mary, we “are redeemed from the tyranny of the devil.” (Modestus of Jerusalem, 7th century); (26)
Hail thou, through whom we are redeemed from the curse (St John Damascene, 8th century)”; (27)
Through her, man was redeemed (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century); (28)
That woman (namely Eve), drove us out of Paradise and sold us; but this one (Mary) brought us back again and bought us; (29)
Just as they (Adam and Eve) were the destroyers of the human race, so these (Jesus Christ and Mary) were its repairers; (30)
She (Mary) also merited reconciliation for the entire human race; (31)
She paid the price (of redemption) as a woman brave and loving—namely when Christ suffered on the cross to pay that price in order to purge and wash and redeem us, the Blessed Virgin was present, accepting and agreeing with the divine will (St. Bonaventure, 13th century); (32)
To her alone was given this privilege, namely a communication in the Passion…and in order to make her a sharer in the benefit of Redemption, He willed that she be a sharer in the penalty of the Passion, in so far as she might become the mother of all through re-creation…(St. Albert the Great (or Pseudo-Albert), 13th century); (33)
God accepted her oblation as a pleasing sacrifice for the utility and salvation of the whole human race…He foretold to thee (Mary) all thy passion whereby he would make thee a sharer of all of his merits and afflictions, and thou would co-operate with him in the restoration of men to salvation (John Tauler, 14th century); (34)
…as one suffering with the Redeemer, for the captive sinner,
Co-redemptrix would you be (14th century). (35)
The Christian teaching on Co-redemptrix continues consistently from the middle ages on into the modern period, (36) as evidenced in this representative selection of examples:
Saints and doctors have united in calling our Blessed Lady co-redemptrix of the world. There is no question of the lawfulness of using such language, because there is overwhelming authority for it… (Faber, 19th century); (37)
We think of all the other extraordinary merits, by which she shared with her Son Jesus in the redemption of mankind….She was not only present at the mysteries of the Redemption, but was also involved with them (Pope Leo XIII, 19th century); (38)
To such extent did she suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him—insofar as she could—in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ (Pope Benedict XV, 20th century); (39)
From the nature of his work the Redeemer ought to have associated his Mother with his work. For this reason, we invoke her under the title of Co-redemptrix (Pope Pius XI, 20th century); (40)
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Second Vatican Council); (41)
Crucified spiritually with her crucified Son (cf. Gal. 2:20), she contemplated with heroic love the death of her God….her role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son (Pope John Paul II, 1985); (42)
The collaboration of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread through prayer and sacrifice. Mary instead co-operated during the event itself and in the role as mother; thus her co-operation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of mankind (Pope John Paul II, 1997). (43)
The teaching of Christian Tradition upon Mary’s unique co-redemptive role continues into the third millennium with this recent papal teaching of John Paul II, where Mary’s intimate participation in the death of her Son at Calvary is compared with the Old Testament sacrificial offering made by Abraham (likewise of his own son, offered in an obedience of faith to God):
The summit of this earthly pilgrimage of faith is Golgotha where Mary intimately lives the paschal mystery of her Son: moved in a certain sense as a mother in the death of her Son, and opens herself to the “resurrection” with a new maternity in relation to the Church (cf. Jn. 19:25-27). There, on Calvary, Mary experiences the night of faith, similar to that of Abraham on Mount Moriah …. (44)
Again, without question of the total and radical dependency of Mary’s participation in redemption upon the divine work and merits of Jesus Christ, Church fathers and doctors, along with later and contemporary Christian Tradition, do not hesitate to teach the active participation of the woman, Mary with Jesus Christ in the theandric “buying back” or redeeming of humanity from the slavery of Satan and sin. This Marian sharing in redemption reflects the ancient Christian teaching that as humanity was lost or “sold” by a man and a woman, so it was God’s will that humanity would be redeemed or “bought back” by a Man and a woman.
In what way then does Mary’s participation as Co-redemptrix in human differ from the general call of Christians to participate in the redemption of Jesus Christ?
Indeed Christian Scripture calls all Christians to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24). This teaching of St. Paul is not speaking of a participation of all Christians in the historical and universal redemption on Calvary where Jesus Christ acquired the graces of Redemption by his passion and death (sometimes theologically referred to as objective redemption. If so, this would incorrectly infer that something was “lacking” in the historic redemptive sufferings and concurring saving merits of Jesus Christ, which were in itself infinite and inexhaustible.
Rather, St. Paul’s teaching refers to the Christian imperative through free co-operation, prayer, and sacrifice to participate in the release and distribution of the infinite graces acquired by Jesus Christ on Calvary to the human family (theologically referred to as subjective redemption. Just as every human heart must actively respond in freedom to the saving grace of Jesus Christ for their own personal, subjective redemption, so too the Christian is called to actively participate in the release and distribution of the graces of redemption for others as well, and, in this way, to “make up” what St. Paul calls “lacking” in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of Christ’s body. In this regard, all Christians truly participate in subjective redemption, this saving distribution of grace as “God’s co-workers” (1Cor. 3:9) or “co-redeemers” to use the expression of 20th century popes. (45)
Mary’s redemptive participation differs from this general Christian call to participate in the distribution of saving graces in individual and personal subjective redemption in so far as she alone also participated, once again subordinately and entirely dependent upon the Redeemer, in the objective, historical and universal redemption as well, as the New Eve with and under the New Adam. This is why the title Co-redemptrix in the first place refers exclusively to Mary. As once again articulated by John Paul II in an 1997 Address:
The collaboration of Christians in salvation takes place after the Calvary event, whose fruits they endeavor to spread through prayer and sacrifice. Mary instead co-operated during the event itself and in the role as mother; thus her co-operation embraces the whole of Christ’s saving work. She alone was associated in this way with the redemptive sacrifice that merited the salvation of mankind. (46)
Therefore, the title and truth of Mary Co-redemptrix as seen in Christian Scripture and Christian Tradition underscores the legitimacy and spiritual fruitfulness for active human participation in the theandric redemptive action of Jesus Christ. For Mary Co-redemptrix, this participation in redemption constitutes a participation in both acquisition and distribution of redemptive graces; and for all other Christians a participation in the distribution of redemptive graces as co-redeemers in Christ. As summarized by Vatican theologian Jean Galot in the official Vatican publication, L’Osservatore Romano:
The title (Co-redemptrix) is criticized because it would suggest an equality between Mary and Christ. The criticism has no foundation…Co-redemption implies a subordination to the redemptive work of Christ, because it is only a cooperation and not an independent or parallel work. Hence any equality with Christ is excluded…The word “co-redemption,” which means “cooperation in redemption,” can be applied to every Christian and to the whole Church. St. Paul writes: ‘We are God’s co-workers’ (1 Cor. 3:9). (47)
Objection 5: The idea of Mary as Co-redemptrix and the teaching of Marian co-redemption is a pious belief held by some devotional Catholics, but is not a doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is found only in minor papal texts and is neither officially taught by the Magisterium, nor is doctrinally present in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
For a member of the Catholic faith, the question of whether a given theological position constitutes an authentic doctrinal teaching of the Church or not is essentially manifested by its presence (or lack thereof) in the teachings from recognized Church authority. The official teaching authority of the Catholic Church, or “Magisterium,” consists of the official teaching of the pope and bishops in union with the pope under the general guidance of the Holy Spirit. (48)
Although there exists a certain hierarchy amidst the expressions of official Catholic teaching authority, from the defined dogma of an ecumenical council or papal ex cathedra infallible statement, to general ecumenical council doctrinal teaching, to encyclical letters, to more general papal teachings contained in papal addresses, there at the same time remains the general directive for the Catholic faithful that is stated by the Second Vatican Council of the need for a religious assent of mind and heart to the manifest mind of the pope, even when he is not speaking infallibly. (49) And certainly all doctrinal teachings from ecumenical councils, papal encyclicals, or consistently repeated papal teachings would constitute authentic doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church.
Let us now apply this criteria for official Catholic doctrine to the question of the doctrinal status of Marian co-redemption.
From the basis of the doctrinal teachings of the Second Vatican Council alone, the certainty of the doctrinal status of Marian co-redemption is unquestionable. Vatican II repeatedly teaches Mary’s unique participation in the redemption of Jesus Christ:
…She devoted herself totally, as handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God. Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. (50)
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. (51)
And further by the Council:
She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented Him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s suffering as He died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace. (52)
Vatican theologian, Fr. Jean Galot, S.J., confirms the official doctrinal status of Marian co-redemption in light of Vatican II teaching:
Without using the term “co-redemptrix,” the Council clearly enunciated the doctrine: a cooperation of a unique kind, a maternal cooperation in the life and work of the Savior, which reaches its apex in the participation in the sacrifice of Calvary, and which is oriented towards the supernatural life of souls… (53)
And as articulated by Galot in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano: “The Second Vatican Council, which avoided employing this debated title (Co-redemptrix), nevertheless affirmed with vigor the doctrine it implies…” (54)
Beyond its certain doctrinal presence in Vatican II, Marian co-redemption, along with the explicit use of the title co-redemptrix, is a repeated papal teaching spanning the 19th to the 21st century, which again assures its authentic doctrinal status within the Church. Marian co-redemption is repeatedly taught in numerous papal encyclicals and general teachings, as reflected in the following representative citations of official papal teachings: (55)
Leo XIII: “”When Mary offered herself completely to God together with her Son in the temple, she was already sharing with Him the painful atonement on behalf of the human race. It is certain, therefore, that she suffered in the very depths of her soul with His most bitter sufferings and with His torments. Finally, it was before the eyes of Mary that the Divine sacrifice for which she had born and nurtured the victim, was to be finished…we see that there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who in a miracle of charity, so that we might receive us as her sons, willingly offered Him up to divine justice, dying with Him in her heart, pierced with the sword of sorrow.” (56)
St. Pius X: “Owing to the union of suffering and purpose existing between Christ and Mary, she merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world, and for this reason, the dispenser of all the favors which Jesus acquired for us by His death and His blood… and because she was chosen by Christ to be His partner in the work of salvation, she merits for us de congruo as they say, that which Christ merits for us de condigno…” (57)
Benedict XV: “The fact that she was with her Son, crucified and dying, was in accord with the divine plan. To such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him—in so far as she could—in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.” (58)
Pius XI: “O Mother of love and mercy who, when thy sweetest Son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross, did stand next to Him, suffering with Him as a Co-redemptrix…preserve in us, we beseech thee, and increase day by day the precious fruit of His Redemption and the compassion of His Mother.” (59)
Pius XII: “It was she who, always most intimately united with her Son, like a New Eve, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father, together with the sacrifice of her maternal rights and love, on behalf of all the children of Adam, shamed by the later’s shameful fall.” (60)
John Paul II: “In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakable faith, but also a contribution to the redemption of all….It was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view, but which were mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the cross together with the beloved disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son.” (61)
John Paul II: “Crucified spiritually with her crucified son (cf. Gal. 2:20), she contemplated with heroic love the death of her God, she “lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which she herself had brought forth”(Lumen Gentium, 58)”…In fact at Calvary she united herself with the sacrifice of her Son which led to the foundation of the Church….In fact, Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son.” (62)
We see then both from the criteria of ecumenical council teaching and from repeated papal teaching through encyclical and general instruction, the teaching of Marian co-redemption without question constitutes an authentic doctrine within the authoritative teachings of the Magisterium.
It is sometimes objected that the specific title, Co-redemptrix only appears in papal teachings of lesser importance, and therefore does not represent Catholic doctrinal teachings. This would be to artificially separate the title, Co-redemptrix from the theological doctrine of co-redemption, with which the title is essentially linked and derived from. The title refers to the spiritual function which Mary performs in her unique cooperation in Redemption, and therefore to separate the title from the doctrine is to inappropriately and dangerously disconnect the title from its revealed and authoritatively taught doctrinal foundation. In sum, the doctrinal certainty of Marian co-redemption guarantees the doctrinal certainty of Mary Co-redemptrix.
Moreover, the repeated papal use of the Co-redemptrix title by the present pope on at least six separate occasions (63) should in itself, for the faithful Catholic, immediately remove any question of the doctrinal legitimacy of the title Co-redemptrix (whether personally or prudentially preferable to the individual Catholic or not). Lest, on the other hand, the Catholic is to conclude contrarily that Pope John Paul II has repeatedly used a Marian title which is in itself doctrinally erroneous, theologically unsound, or intrinsically without Christian doctrinal foundation. This appears foreign to the fullest sense of the religious assent of mind and will to be given the manifest mind of the pope to non- infallible papal teachings. (64)
In sum, in light of both conciliar and repeated papal teachings, Marian Co-redemption and it corresponding title, Mary Co-redemptrix, constitutes an official doctrinal teaching of the Church.
Objection 6: On a more speculative theological level, it appears that Mary cannot participate in the acquisition of the graces of redemption—or “objective redemption”—as the Co-redemptrix when she herself needed to be redeemed. If she did cooperate in objective redemption, it is because without her, objective redemption has not been accomplished. But if objective redemption has indeed not been accomplished, then she herself cannot benefit from it personally. This would be to accept that at the same time objective redemption is in the act of being accomplished and has already been accomplished, which would be a contradiction.
This apparent contradiction is removed with the proper understanding of how Mary received what is called “preservative redemption” in light of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ on the cross.
It is true that Mary needed to be “redeemed” in order to actively participate in the process of Redemption as the sinless partner, the New Eve, with and under Jesus Christ, the New Adam. To have original sin or its effects would not allow Mary to be completely united with the Redeemer and in “enmity” or complete opposition from Satan and his seed of sin and its effects (cf. Gen. 3:15) in the redeeming process of “buying back” the human family from Satan and restoring grace to humanity. Any sin on Mary’s part would attribute to her a “double-agency,” in being in some part united both to the Redeemer and to Satan. Therefore Mary, as a daughter of Adam and Eve by virtue of her humanity, needed to be redeemed in the form of being preserved from sin and its effects in order to rightly perform the task of Co-redemptrix with the Redeemer in the process of universal objective redemption.
In the papal definition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception by Bl. Pope Pius IX in 1854, it states that Mary, from the first instant of her conception was freed from original sin and all its effects “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” (65) This refers to the higher or “more sublime manner” in which Mary was redeemed, beyond all other children of Adam and Eve. In Mary’s redemption, she did not have to suffer the experience of original sin and its effects, but rather through the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ at Calvary, was preserved from any experience or effect of original sin, and is thereby redeemed in a more sublime manner (and consequently, for this reason, owes more to her saving Son’s redemption than any other redeemed creature).
How then specifically is Mary’s redemption in the higher form of preservation from sin enacted so as to allow her to historically participate in objective redemption? This more sublime manner of redemption takes place at Calvary in the fact that the first intention of the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ, (66) according to the providential plan of the Father, was to redeem his own mother, (accomplished in view of the redemption and co-redemption which would then ransom from Satan and sin the rest of the human family).
This first intention of the Redeemer to redeem Mary is in itself another manifestation of the higher and more sublime manner of Mary’s redemption. The graces of this first intention of the Redeemer are then applied to Mary at the moment of her Immaculate Conception, allowing her then to become the sinless Co-redemptrix, the historical New Eve, in the objective historic redemption of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Jesus Christ first redeemed his own mother (applied to her at the moment of her conception, preserving her from sin) and then with her active co-redemption the rest of humanity at Calvary.
Therefore there is no contradiction in the historic role of the Co-redemptrix in the objective redemption at Calvary and Mary’s own personal need and receipt of the graces of redemption. In virtue of her Immaculate Conception, (redemptive graces applied to her at conception in view of the future merits of Jesus Christ at Calvary), and as the first intention of Jesus Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, Mary was then able to uniquely participate in the historic redemption of the rest of humanity with her Redeemer Son. As Fr. Galot well summarizes:
The first intention of the redemptive sacrifice was concerned, according to the divine plan, with the ransom of Mary, accomplished in view of our ransom…Thus, while she was associated in the sacrifice of Calvary, Mary already benefited, in advance, from the fruits of the sacrifice and acted in the capacity of a ransomed creature. But she truly cooperated in the objective redemption, in the acquisition of the graces of salvation for all of mankind. Her redemption was purchased before that of other human beings. Mary was ransomed only by Christ, so that mankind could be ransomed with the collaboration of his mother…
Hence there is no contradiction: Marian co-redemption implies the foreseen redemption of Mary, but not the foreseen fulfillment of the redemption of mankind; it expresses the unique situation of the mother who, while having received a singular grace from her own Son, cooperates with Him in the attainment of salvation for all. (67)
Still other theological schools prefer to distinguish the general notion of redemption into the two categories of “preservation” and “ransoming.” Since Mary was never technically under the slavery of Satan’s bondage since she never experienced sin, then the term “ransom” is less accurate for her, as it infers returning someone from a previous slavery. Hence the term, “preservation” or preservative redemption may more accurately distinguish the uniqueness of Mary’s need to be redeemed by Christ first and as a daughter of Adam and Eve, but does not infer that she was ever under Satan’s slavery of sin, illustrative of her higher form of preservative redemption and her subsequent participation in the true “ransoming” of the rest of humanity. (68)
Does this primordial intention of Jesus Christ to redeem his mother and then, as subsequent intention, the rest of humanity violate the “one sacrifice” of Jesus Christ offered for all as discussed in Hebrews (cf Heb. 10:10)? It does not, as the redemption remains one, although its intentions and efficacious applications are twofold. The one redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary does not constitute “two redemptions,” but one sublime redemption with two saving applications: the first application effecting the Immaculate Conception of Mary and thus preparing her to be the Co-redemptrix in her cooperation in objective redemption; the second application effecting the redemption of the human family accomplished with the Co-redemptrix. (69)
In his homily on the Feast of Immaculate Conception in the cathedral in Krakow, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (the present pontiff) well summarized this Marian truth: “In order to be the Co-redemptrix, she was first the Immaculate Conception.” (70)
Objection 7: While granting the legitimacy of Mary Co-redemptrix and its corresponding doctrine of co-redemption, there are no substantial reasons or fruits for its papal definition at this time, and in fact such a definition would cause serious division within the Church.
It must be stated from the outset that such a position regarding a potential papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix is certainly an acceptable position by a faithful member of the Catholic Church. Notwithstanding, let us explore, in a brief summary format, some of the numerous contemporary reasons presently being offered in support of the appropriateness and consequent positive fruits of a formal papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix.
1. Greater theological clarity to an area of present misunderstanding.
When Bl. Pius IX raised the Church doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to the level of dogma in 1854, he stated that the fruits of such definition would be to “bring to perfection” the doctrine, adding greater clarity and light for the benefit of all:
The Church labors hard to polish the previous teachings, to bring to perfection their formulation in such a way that these older dogmas of the heavenly doctrine receive proof, light, distinction, while keeping their fullness, their integrity, their own character… (71)
In light of the substantial contemporary confusion concerning precisely what the Catholic Church means to convey in the doctrine of Marian co-redemption (as evidenced by the recent The New York Times piece and its reaction), it would seem most beneficial to have a precise statement, scripturally formulated in light of Christian Tradition, from the highest authority of the Catholic Church, ensuring its doctrinal precision and authenticity.
2. Ecumenical benefits in an authentic Catholic expression of doctrinal dialogue
Rather than its perception as being against the imperative of working for Christian unity, a precise formulation of what Catholics believe regarding Mary Co-redemptrix, and at the same time what they do not believe (i.e., equality with Jesus Christ, divinity of Mary, etc.) will only serve authentic ecumenical dialogue based on integrity and truth as to what is already a Catholic doctrinal teaching.
The late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York referred to this potential ecumenical fruit in his letter of endorsement for the papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix:
Clearly, a formal papal definition would be articulated in such precise terminology that other Christians would lose their anxiety that we do not distinguish adequately between Mary’s unique association with Christ and the redemptive power exercised by Christ alone. (72)
Such a definition would help avoid the dangerous tendency to present in ecumenical dialogue only those doctrinal elements Christians share together, rather than the difficult but necessary aspect of sharing those doctrinal elements Christians do not hold in common. Such integrity in ecumenical doctrinal exchange is critically necessary in eventually arriving at any true Christian unity.
3. Proper development of Marian doctrine
The existing four Marian Dogmas, the Motherhood of God (431), the Perpetual Virginity (649), the Immaculate Conception (1854), and the Assumption (1950), all deal with the attributes or qualities of Mary’s earthly life, but none directly refer to the Mother of Jesus in relation to the human family.
It is interesting to note historically that only one month following the papal definition of Mary’s Assumption in November 1950, the International Mariological Congress formally petitioned Pope Pius XII for the papal definition of Mary’s universal mediation as a logical progression following the definition of the Assumption. (73)
After the early life and attributes of Mary have received their respective “perfections of doctrine” in solemn dogmatic definitions, so too it would seem appropriate that Mary’s heavenly prerogative as spiritual mother of all peoples in the order of grace, inclusive of and founded upon her unique co-redemption, would also receive its doctrinal perfecting in the form of a dogmatic definition.
4. Affirmation of the dignity of the human person and human freedom
One of the world’s leading contemporary personalist philosophers (from the philosophical school focusing upon the dignity of the human person), Professor Dr. Josef Seifert, (74) argues that a dogma of Mary Co-redemptrix would constitute a supreme confirmation of the dignity and freedom the human person:
A dogma that declares Mary Co-redemptrix would give unique witness to the full freedom of the human person and to God’s respect for human freedom. This dogma would recognize in an ultimate way that a free decision of the human person of Mary, who was not even to become the Mother of God without her free fiat—a decision which was not exclusively caused by divine grace but was also the fruit of her own personal choice—was necessary for our salvation, or played an indispensable part in the concrete way of our redemption chosen by God.
In our age, in which a personalist philosophy was developed more deeply than ever before in the history of mankind, and in which at the same time terrible anti-personalist ideologies reign, such a dogma would rightfully be perceived as a supreme confirmation of the dignity of the human person.
In all of this I would see a crucial value and significance of this dogma being proclaimed in our time in which both a new awareness of personal dignity arose and in which the person has been more humiliated in action and denied in theory than ever before. (75)
5. Re-affirmation of the dignity of woman
In the contemporary discussion of feminism and the nature of woman, the papal proclamation of Mary Co-redemptrix would underscore what could properly identified as God’s radical love and respect for woman. According to Christian Scripture, the entire providential plan of God the Father to send his Son for the redemption of the world was contingent upon the free fiat of a woman (Cf. Lk 1:38; Gal 4:4). What “trust’ God the Father has in woman in the person of Mary that He would make the coming of the Redeemer of the entire human family conditional upon this woman’s free consent.
As Dr. Seifert again points out:
This new declaration of the Traditional doctrine would therefore show anew a perpetual truth about Mary and about woman, a truth which was always held by the Church but never clearly and indubitably stated: the greatest deed of God’s gracious love—the Redemption of mankind and our salvation—is in some real sense also the consequence of a free act of a woman and thus also the gift of a woman to humanity. (76)
This dogma would express the dignity of a woman’s action which exceeds in activeness, sublimity and effectiveness the deeds of all pure creatures and men: of all kings and politicians, thinkers, scientists, philosophers, artists and craftsmen from the beginning of the world to the end…. (77)
The fully defined revelation and role of Mary Co-redemptrix could thereby be offered as an exemplary foundation for better understanding the unique contribution of feminism to humanity and, as such, constitute a foundational anthropological basis for authentic Christian feminism.
6. Re-emphasis of the Christian need to cooperate with God’s grace for salvation
Anglican Oxford scholar, Dr. John Macquarrie, states that the role of Mary Co-redemptrix provides a concrete expression of the human necessity to freely and actively cooperate with God’s grace for salvation. He moreover sees the Christian truth of Mary Co-redemptrix as a corrective for theologies that remove such dignity to the person, and in consequence, put forth an undesirable image of Christianity itself. As synthesized by Dr. Macquarrie in this extended citation:
In some forms of teaching, it is even believed that human beings can be saved without even knowing that salvation is taking place. It has all taken place already through the once-for-all redeeming work of Christ. It is a fact, whether anyone recognizes it or not…For Barth, the (subjective) Redemption is a purely objective act, already finished ‘outside of us, without us, even against us…Redemption is not, in his view, to be considered as an ongoing process in which we have some part, but as the once-for-all act of God long before we were born…
Now if one conceded Barth’s point, then I think one would have to say that he is indeed treating human beings like sheep or cattle or even marionettes, not as unique beings that they are, spiritual beings made in the image of God and entrusted with a measure of freedom and responsibility…It is understandable that that Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and a whole galaxy of modern thinkers came to believe that Christianity alienates them from a genuine humanity…
Let us now come back to the consideration of Mary as Co-redemptrix. Perhaps we do have to acknowledge that Barth and others have been correct in believing that the place given to Mary in catholic theology is a threat to the doctrine of sola gratia (grace alone), but I think this is the case only when the doctrine of sola gratia is interpreted in its extreme form, when this doctrine itself becomes a threat to a genuinely personal and biblical view of the human being…a being still capable of responding to God in the work of building up creation. This hopeful view of the human race is personified and enshrined in Mary.
In the glimpses of Mary that we have in the gospels, her standing at the cross beside her Son, and her prayers and intercessions with the apostles, are particularly striking ways in which Mary shared and supported the work of Christ…it is Mary who has come to symbolize the perfect harmony between the divine will and the human response, so that it is she who gives meaning to the expression Co-redemptrix. (78)
Mary Co-redemptrix and its new proclamation would serve to protect human freedom, dignity, and the human imperative to freely cooperate with grace for salvation.
7. “Suffering is Redemptive” and the “Culture of Death”
A solemn definition of Mary Co-redemptrix would be a Christian proclamation to the world that “suffering is redemptive.” The Christian example of the Co-redemptrix manifests to the world that to accept the providentially permitted crosses of our human existence is not a valueless waste to be avoided at all costs, including intrinsic evils such as euthanasia and abortion. But rather that the patient endurance of all human hardships are of supernatural value when united with the sufferings of Jesus Christ, a participation in the distribution of the redemptive graces of Calvary, both for ourselves and for others (Cf. Col. 1:24).
Even the example of Mary’s “yes” to unborn life, in circumstances which could foster undue judgement and ridicule from people surrounding her, is an example of a co-redemptive “yes” that all people should say in response to the event of unborn life, regardless the circumstance.
John Paul II describes the present “Culture of Death” as a “cultural climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering to be the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all cost. This is especially the case in the absence of a religious outlook which could help provide a positive understanding of the mystery of suffering.” (79)
The concrete example of Mary Co-redemptrix offers to the Church and the world the positive Christian message that “suffering is redemptive” in all possible circumstances, from Christian persecution, to terminal cancer, to “unwanted” pregnancy, to the ordinary crosses of daily life.
8. Unity through papal charism within the Catholic Church
From a Catholic perspective, the charism (or gift of the Holy Spirit) that is given to St. Peter and his successors, the subsequent popes (cf. Mt: 16:15-20), is a source of unity in doctrine and in life for the members of the Church. When the specific papal charism of infallibility is used in a preservation from error by the Holy Spirit on matters of faith and morals, such exercise of this papal charism safeguards and properly reinforces a Catholic unity in life based on a unity in faith, truth and doctrine. The same benefit of unity which comes with the exercise of the papal charism would also be given in the case of a solemn papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix.
It is sometimes objected that such a definition on Marian co-redemption would “cause division” within the Church. It is imperative to be clear on this point: Christian truth by its nature unites; it is only the rejection of Christian truth that divides. The same would hold true for a potential definition of Mary Co-redemptrix.
In the first case, it is already a doctrinal teaching of the Church and thereby should already be accepted by the Catholic faithful with a religious assent of mind and will. (80) Secondly as was just stated, an exercise of the papal charism of infallibility in the service of Christian truth and as guided by the Holy Spirit in itself brings with it the grace of unity of hearts based on unity of truth and faith. But as was true for Jesus Christ, the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 2:35), so would be true of the rejection of the truth concerning the Mother of the “Sign of Contradiction.”
Therefore any division within the Church in response to a papal infallible definition of the Co-redemptrix doctrine would not constitute, nor accurately be perceived as, a true and valid component of the papal definition itself, but only its unfortunate rejection.
9. Modern saints and Co-redemptrix
One possible indication of the maturity of the Co-redemptrix doctrine and its potential definability is the modern testimony and teaching of this Marian truth by a great number of contemporary canonized saints and blesseds. The generous appreciation by recent saints and blesseds of Marian co-redemption indicates its spiritual ripeness in the hearts of heroic sanctity within the Body of Christ today.
Those particularly vocal in their appreciation of Marian co-redemption, both as a Marian doctrine and as a model of Christian spiritual life, include St. Therese of Liseux, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Pope Pius X, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Leopold Mandic, St. Edith Stein, St. Jose Maria Escriva, St. Padre Pio, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, and numerous others. (81)
It also seems appropriate to quote Bl. Mother Teresa’s endorsement for the papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix: “The papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate will bring great graces to the Church. All for Jesus through Mary.” (82)
10. Initiation of the Fatima prophesied Triumph of the Immaculate Heart
A significant number of contemporary Marian authors and thinkers worldwide (83) also see in the papal proclamation of Mary Co-redemptrix, along with her subsequent spiritual roles as Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate, what has been referred to as the definitive “initiation” or beginning of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as prophesied in the 1917 Apparition of Mary at Fatima, Portugal.
The particular notion of the “Triumph of the Immaculate Heart” comes from the words of the Church approved apparitions of Mary at Fatima to the young Portuguese children seers, who after prophesying such upcoming events such as the rise of atheistic communism, persecutions for the Church and the Holy Father, a potential second world war, and the annihilation of various nations, then stated, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph….” (84)
The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is hence foreseen as a dramatic influx of supernatural grace upon the world, mediated to the world by the Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, and leading to a period of spiritual peace for humanity.
The role of the papal proclamation of Mary Co-redemptrix in the prophesied Triumph of the Immaculate Heart would be seen by some Marian contemporaries as the official recognition by the pope, as the highest Church authority, exercising the required freedom on the part of humanity to allow the full mediational and intercessory power of Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate to be released in the distribution of the redemptive graces of Calvary to the contemporary world.
God does not force his grace upon us, but awaits the free consent of humanity. With the official papal definition of Mary Co-redemptrix by the highest human authority’s exercise of free will on behalf of humanity, this free act would “release” the Co-redemptrix to most fully distribute the graces of Calvary in a new outpouring of graces of the Holy Spirit for the world. As explained by former Vatican Ambassador Howard Dee of the Philippines:
Two thousand years ago, during the First Advent, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and when the power of the Most High overshadowed her, she conceived Jesus, Son of God. Now, during this New Advent, it is the Mother of All Peoples, Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate, who will accompany her Spouse to descend into our hearts and our souls and recreate in each of us—if we give our fiat—into the likeness of Jesus…The proclamation of the Fifth Dogma is no longer our prerogative; it is our duty. (85)
As such, the papal proclamation of Mary Co-redemptrix would effect a historic release of spiritual grace upon the world by the full exercise of the spiritual mother of all peoples in her most generous exercise of her roles as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all grace and Advocate. (86)
It is to be hoped that some light has been shed upon the principal questions concerning the present discussion of the issue of Mary Co-redemptrix in itself and, at least by way of introduction, in discussing the specific aspect of a potential papal definition of the Co-redemptrix doctrine.
In regards to any future potential definition of Co-redemptrix from a Catholic perspective, peace and trust in the guidance of the Church by the pontiff in matters of faith and morals should ultimately reign supreme in the Catholic faithful’s mind and heart, regardless of present legitimate personal opinions of diversity on the issue.
From the general Christian perspective regarding the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix and other doctrines which presently divide us, let us keep faith in the eventual fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ for Christian unity at the Last Supper that, “… they may all be one, even as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me” (Jn. 17:21). Apart from temporary historical advances or setbacks, Christians must have faith in an ultimate Christian unity of heart, which will blossom into a unity of mind, truth, and faith based on the one Jesus Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, the Life” (Jn. 14:6).
(1) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Personal Interview, Calcutta, August 14, 1993.
(2) John Paul II, Papal Address, Jan. 31, 1985, Guayaquil, Ecuador, (O.R., March 13, 1985).
(3) St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haeresus, III, 22, emphasis author’s.
(4) St. Jerome, Epist. 22, 21.
(5) Modestus of Jerusalem, Migne, PG 86; 3287.
(6) St. John Damascene, PG 86; 658.
(7) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Ser. III, super Salve.
(8) St. Bonaventure, de don., Sp. 6; 14., emphasis author’s.
(9) Cf. Calkins, “Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on Marian Coredemption” as found in Miravalle, ed., Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, p.113.
(10) Cf. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, nn. 21, 28.
(11) Second Vatican Council, Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 11.
(12) John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, n. 36.
(13) John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, n. 18.
(14) Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 56.
(15) Lumen Gentium, n. 58.
(16) Lumen Gentium, n. 61.
(17) John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 18.
(18) John Cardinal O’Connor, Endorsement Letter For Papal Definition of Mary, Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, February 14, 1994.
(19) Martin Luther, Commentary on the Magnificat, 1521, as quoted in Dr. Charles Dickson, A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, 1996, Our Sunday Visitor Press, pp. 41, 42.
(21) Dickson, A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, pp. 48-49.
(22) John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, nn. 21, 39.
(23) John Paul II, Papal Address, Rome, October 1, 1997, L’Osservatore Romano, 1997, n. 41.
(24) J. Macquarrie, “Mary Co-redemptrix and Disputes over Justification and Grace” in Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, p. 246.
(25) St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haeresus, III, 22, emphasis author’s.
(26) Modestus of Jerusalem, Migne, PG 86; 3287.
(27) St. John Damascene, PG 86; 658.
(28) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Ser. III, super Salve.
(29) St. Bonaventure, de don., Sp. 6; 14, emphasis author’s.
(30) St. Bonaventure, Sermo III de Assumptione, Opera Omnia, v. 9.
(31) St. Bonaventure, Sent. III.
(32) St. Bonaventure, Collatio de donis Spiritus Sancti 6, n. 16.
(33) St. Albert the Great (or Pseudo-Albert) Mariale, Q. 150.
(34) John Tauler, Sermo pro festo Purificationis Beate Mariae Virginis.
(35) Oratione, St. Peters’s in Salzburg, in Analecta hymnica medii aevi, v. 46, p. 126.
(36) For a more comprehensive treatment of Co-redemptrix throughout Christian Tradition, cf. J.B. Carol, De Corredemptione Beatae Virginis Mariae, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950, p. 125; G. Roschini, O.S.M., Maria Santissima Nella Storia Della Salvezza, 1969, v. II, p.171.
(37) Fr. Fredrick Faber, At the Foot of the Cross (Sorrows of Mary), Reilly Co., 370.
(38) Pope Leo XIII, Parta humano generi.
(39) Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia, 1918.
(40) Pope Pius XI, Allocution to Pilgrims of Vicenza, Nov. 30,1933.
(41) Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 58
(42) John Paul II, Papal Address at Guayaquil, January 31, 1985 (O.R.E., 876).
(43) John Paul II, General Audience, April 9, 1997.
(44) John Paul II, General Audience, March 21, 2001.
(45) For example, cf. Pius XI, Papal Allocution at Vicenza, Nov. 30, 1933.
(46) John Paul II, General Audience, April 9,1997.
(47) Galot, S.J., “Maria Corredentrice” in L’Osservatore Romano, September 15, 1997, Daily Italian Ed.
(48) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, II, nn. 9-10.
(49) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 25.
(50) Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 56.
(51) Lumen Gentium, n. 58.
(52) Lumen Gentium, n. 61.
(53) Jean Galot, S.J., “Maria Corredentrice. Controversie e problemi dottrinali,” Civilta Cattolica, 1994, III, 213-225.
(54) “Maria Corredentrice,” L’Osservatore Romano, September 15, 1995, p. 4.
(55) For a more comprehensive treatment, cf. Schug and Miravalle, “Mary Co-redemptrix in the Documents of the Papal Magisterium” in Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations I, Queenship, 1995; Calkins, “Pope John Paul’s Teaching on Marian Co-redemption” in Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, pp.113-148.
(56) Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Jucunda Semper, 1884.
(57) Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical Ad diem illum, 1904.
(58) Pope Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter, Inter Sodalicia, 1918.
(59) Pope Pius XI, Prayer of the Solemn Closing of the Redemption Jubilee, April 28, 1933.
(60) Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis, 1943.
(61) Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, n.25.
(62) John Paul II, Papal Address at Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jan. 31, 1985.
(63) Cf. For six citations and commentary, cf. Calkins, “The Mystery of Mary Coredemptrix in the Papal Magisterium” in Miravalle, ed., Mary Co-redemptrix: Doctrinal Issues Today, Queenship, 2002, pp. 41ff.
(64) Again, cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25.
(65) Bl. Pope Pius IX, Dogmatic Bull, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.
(66) For an extended treatment, cf. J. B. Carol, “Our Lady’s Co-redemption,” in Mariology, Vol. II, Bruce, 1958; Friethoff, A Complete Mariology, Blackfriars Pub., London, 1985, p.182; Galot, S.J., Maria: Mediatrice o Madre Universale?,” Civilta Cattolica, 1996, I, 232-244.
(67) Galot, S.J., “Maria Corredentrice: Controversie e problemi dottrinali,” Civilta Cattolica, 1994, III, p. 218.
(68) Cf. Friethoff, op. cit.
(69) Cf. J.B. Carol, op. cit.
(70) Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Homily on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1973.
(71) Bl. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854, DS 2802.
(72) John Cardinal O’Connor, Endorsement Letter For Papal Definition of Mary, Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, February 14, 1994.
(73) Alma Socia Christi, Proceedings of the Rome International Mariological Congress, 1950, p. 234.
(74) Dr. Josef Seifert is Rector of the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein and member of the Pontifical Council For Life.
(75) Seifert, “Mary as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix of all Graces—Philosophical and Personalist Foundations of a Marian Doctrine,” in Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, p. 166.
(76) Seifert, ibid., p.168.
(78) J. Macquarrie, “Mary Co-redemptrix and Disputes over Justification and Grace” in Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, pp. 248, 255.
(79) John Paul II, 1995 Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, n. 15.
(80) Again cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25.
(81) For a more comprehensive treatment of modern hagiography on Marian Co-redemption, cf. Stefano Manelli, FFI, “Twentieth Century Hagiography on Marian Co-redemption” in Mary at the Foot of the Cross, Acts of the England Symposium on Marian Co-redemption, 1999.
(82) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Endorsement Letter for the Fifth Marian Dogma, August 14, 1993.
(83) For a sample of such thought, cf. In Miravalle, ed., Contemporary Insights on a Fifth Marian Dogma, Theological Foundations III, Queenship, 2000, the following essays: Ambassador Howard Dee, “Our Lady’s Ambassador, John Paul II, Fatima, and the Fifth Marian Dogma”; Dr. Bartholomew, “A Scientist Explores Mary, Co-redemptrix”; Calkins, “The Messages of the Lady of All Nations.”
(84) Memoirs of Sr. Lucia of Fatima, July 13, 1917.
(85) Ambassador Howard Dee, “Our Lady’s Ambassador, John Paul II, Fatima, and the Fifth Marian Dogma,” in Contemporary Insights on a Fifth Marian Dogma, Queenship, 2000, pp. 12-13.
(86) For an extended treatment, cf. Miravalle, The Dogma and the Triumph, Queenship, 1998.
Originally from: Mother of All Peoples (USA)