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Proposed Last (5th)
Marian Dogma

Mary Co-redemptrix: A Response to 7 Common Objections

Dr. Mark Miravalle

Part 2

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 examine the specific objection regarding Mary’s active participation in the divine act of Redemption.

The full objection to Mary’s active participation as Co­redemptrix 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” (possessing the essence and specific attribute as part of who you are) from “participation” (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 ... 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” (St. Bonaventure, 13th century); [29]

Just as they [Adam and Eve] were the destroyers of the human race, so these [Jesus Christ and Mary] were its repairers” (St. Bonaventure); [30]

She [Mary] also merited reconciliation for the entire human race” (St. Bonaventure); [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); [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 co­redemptive 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.... (March 21, 200l). [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 redemption 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 his 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 co­workers(1 Cor. 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 a 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 (John Paul II, 1997). [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 Co­redemptrix, 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 (Fr. Jean Galot, S.J.) 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 co­redemption 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]

And further:

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.

Vatican theologian, Jean Galot, 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 co­redemption, 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:

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 He 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 latter’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 Co­redemptrix 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 gen­era! 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
artficially 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 five 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). On the other hand, the Catholic may 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; however, this appears foreign to the fullest sense of the religious assent of mind and will given to the manifest mind of the pope in non-infallible papal teachings. [64]

In sum, in light of both conciliar and repeated papal teachings, Marian co-redemption and its corresponding title, Mary Co­redemptrix, constitutes an official doctrinal teaching of the Church.

Dr. Mark Miravalle
Professor of Theology and Mariology
Franciscan University of Steubenville
March 25, 2001


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.

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 huinano 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. (ORE, 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.

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, author’s emphasis.

55.  For a more comprehensive treatment, cf. Schug and Miravalle, “Mary Co­redemptrix in the Documents of the Papal Magisterium” in
Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations I, Queenship Pub. 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 ilium, 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 five citations and commentary, cf. Calkins, “Pope John Paul II’s Teaching on Marian Co-redemption”,
Mary Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, Theological Foundations II, Queenship, 1997.

64. Again, cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25.

The above is reproduced with the kind permission of Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici.

Version: 17th September 2001

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