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Co-Redemptrix is a title used by some Roman Catholics for the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as a Catholic theological concept referring to Mary's role in the redemption of man. It has always been controversial and has never formed part of the dogma of the Church. The term Co-Redemptrix refers to a subordinate but essential participation by the Blessed Virgin Mary in redemption, notably that she gave free consent to give life to the Redeemer, to share his life, to suffer with him under the cross, to offer his sacrifice to God the Father for the sake of the redemption of mankind. Related to this belief is the concept of Mary as Mediatrix, which is a separate concept but regularly included by faithful who use the title Co-Redemptrix.
The concept was especially common in the late Middle Ages, when it was promoted heavily among the Franciscans, and often resisted by the Dominicans. By the early 16th century the hopes of the concept becoming Catholic doctrine had receded, and have never seriously revived. In more recent times, the title has received some support from the Catholic Magisterium though it is not included in the concluding chapter of the apostolic constitution Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, which chapter many theologians hold to be a comprehensive summary of Roman Catholic Mariology. Some, in particular the adherents of the Amsterdam visions, have petitioned for a dogmatic definition, along with Mediatrix, but recent high-level comments in the Church have not encouraged these hopes.
The concept of co-redemption is not new. Even before the year 200, the Church Father Irenaeus referred to Mary as the cause of our salvation (Latin: causa salutis) given her "fiat" It is a concept which was the subject of considerable theological debate, reaching a peak in the 15th century, but attempts to have it declared a dogma were not successful. In general it was supported and promoted by medieval Franciscans and opposed by Dominicans.
A number of theologians have discussed the concept over the years, from the 19th century Father Frederick William Faber, to the 20th century Mariologist Father Gabriel Roschini. In his 1946 publication Compendium Mariologiae, Roschini explained that Mary did not only participate in the birth of the physical Jesus, but, with conception, she entered with him into a spiritual union. The divine salvation plan, being not only material, includes a permanent spiritual unity with Christ. Most Mariologists agree with this position. Mary suffered willingly under the cross and, in a sense, offered Christ's sacrifice to the God the Father.
The concept of Mary offering Christ's sufferings is theologically complex. Christ offered himself alone; “the Passion of Christ did not need any assistance.” It is according to the spirit of the offertory within the Mass, in which those assisting in the sacrifice bring their particular offerings, personal hardships, etc., and offer them to Christ to be included in his sacrifice, inasmuch as they belong to his mystical body; just the same, they also offer Christ's own sacrifice, acknowledging the paucity of their own offerings and that not even the greatest effort, of itself and apart from Christ, can be of any significance to God. A priest is, in a sense, able to participate in the sacrifice in a sacramental manner. The Holy Office has forbidden reference to Mary as a priestess.
Mary “merits for us de congruo”, i.e. by way of a fitting reward not binding upon God, “what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno”, i.e. by God binding himself to give the reward. It is uncertain whether Pope Pius X meant "for us” to mean all mankind except Christ's human nature and Mary, or only those living after Mary's merits, since the former could potentially break the general rule that the effect comes after the cause. Where it concerns post-Assumption graces, it is a pious opinion that the entirety of them is effected not without an intercession of Mary.
The Roman Catholic view of the title Co-Redemptrix does not imply that Mary participates as equal part in the redemption of the human race, since Christ is the only redeemer. Mary herself needed redemption and was redeemed by Jesus Christ. Being redeemed by Christ, implies that she cannot be his equal part in the redemption process. Additionally, Mary intercedes for all graces that are given, this is not because God needed her intercession in any way to give them; rather, it “is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator”.
Pope Pius XII has thus in Munificentissimus Deus, the bull defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, used the alternative expression "the revered Mother of God, [...] joined [...] with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination [...] as the noble associate of the divine Redeemer".
The New Testament is commonly cited in favour of this teaching:
- Luke 1:38: "And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
- John 19:25-27: "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own."
- The medieval notion that John, the Beloved Disciple, stands virtually for every believer has become quite general; thus, Mary is the mother of all the faithful. Furthermore, these verses indicate that she stood in fact under the Cross, where she suffered alongside her son, fulfilling the prophecy of Simeon in Luke 2:35: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."
- Colossians 1:24: "[I, Paul,] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church”.
- If Paul could fill up what was behind, so could the Blessed Virgin Mary a fortiori.
Proposed dogmatic definition
There have been efforts to propose a formal dogmatization, which has had both popular and ecclesiastical support. It was brought up at the Second Vatican Council by Italian, Spanish and Polish bishops, but not dealt with on the council floor. Subsequently, while perhaps sympathetic to requests from the faithful and bishops, popes pointedly did not include such language in their encyclicals.
The proposal is the first-ever case that an alleged apparition, in Amsterdam, has supposedly proposed, or rather, demanded a dogma from the Church. Up to then, apparitions confirmed existing dogmas rather than demanding new ones. Since 2002, the Amsterdam apparitions have had approval of the diocesan bishop, Monsignor Jos Punt. However, given the fact that a non-approving decision from Rome in the 1970s seems to have had some degree of finality, it brings the subsequent jurisdiction of Msgr. Punt into question.
In the early 1990s Prof. Mark Miravalle of the Franciscan University of Steubenville and author of the book Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate launched a popular petition to urge Pope John Paul II to declare Mary Co-Redemptrix ex cathedra.
Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of the Marianum in Rome, thought that this indicated "...a certain 'under-appreciation' of the Council's teaching, which is perhaps believed to be not completely adequate to illustrate comprehensively Mary's co-operation in Christ's work of Redemption".
Arguments opposed are that such a dogma might limit, in popular understanding, the redemptive role of Jesus Christ.
Our Blessed Lord is the sole Redeemer of the world in the true and proper sense of the word, and in this sense no creature whatsoever shares the honor with Him, neither can it be said of Him without impiety that He is co-redeemer with Mary. ...in a degree to which no others approach, our Blessed Lady co-operated with Him in the redemption of the world.
He also explains that, "Thus, so far as the literal meaning of the word is concerned, it would appear that the term co-redemptress is not theologically true, or at least does not express the truth it certainly contains with theological accuracy." Faber recognized that the term Co-Redemptrix usually requires some explanation in modern English because so often the prefix co- tends to imply complete equality.
This concern is shared by Perrella.
The semantic weight of this expression would require a good many other qualifications and clarifications, especially in the case under examination, where she who is wished to be proclaimed coredeemer is, in the first place, one who is redeemed, albeit in a singular manner, and who participates in Redemption primarily as something she herself receives. Thus we see the inadequacy of the above-mentioned term for expressing a doctrine which requires, even from the lexical standpoint, the proper nuances and distinctions of levels.
Another argument, though by no means the only one, is that it would also complicate ecumenical efforts for a better understanding of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the salvation mystery of Jesus Christ.
In August 1996, a Mariological Congress was held in Częstochowa, Poland, where a commission was established in response to a request of the Holy See. The congress sought the opinion of scholars present there regarding the possibility of proposing a fifth Marian dogma on Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. The commission unanimously declared that it was not opportune, voting 23-0 against the proposed dogma.
By 1998 it was doubtful the Vatican was going to consider new Marian dogmas. The papal spokesman stated "This is not under study by the Holy Father nor by any Vatican congregation or commission". A leading Mariologist stated the petition was "theologically inadequate, historically a mistake, pastorally imprudent and ecumenically unacceptable". Pope John Paul II cautioned against "all false exaggeration", his teaching and devotion to Mary has strictly been "exalting Mary as the first among believers but concentrating all faith on the Triune God and giving primacy to Christ." When asked in an interview in 2000 whether the Church would go along with the desire to solemnly define Mary as Co-Redemptrix, then-Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) responded that,
the formula “Co-redemptrix” departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings...Everything comes from Him [Christ], as the Letter to the Ephesians and the Letter to the Colossians, in particular, tell us; Mary, too, is everything she is through Him. The word “Co-redemptrix” would obscure this origin. A correct intention being expressed in the wrong way.
Benedict further explained his notable opposition of a dogmatization, concluding that the title is sufficiently included in other better expressions of Catholic Marian teaching. "For example, the Scriptural account is unsatisfactory, and above all, we are talking most of the time of a merit de congruo which would seem, by the very definition of de congruo, not fit into the exact clearness needed for dogmatic definitions."
- Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Mercier Press Ltd., Cork, Ireland, 1955.
- Acta Apostolicae Sedis, referenced as AAS by year.
- “Therefore, one can say, she [that is, the Blessed Virgin] redeemed with Christ the human race.” Pope Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Inter soldalica, AAS 1918, 181. There has not been a retraction so far, nor any equivalent statements since.
- News Report on the Mediatrix Petition to the Pope
- "Why It's Not the Right Time for a Dogma on Mary as Co-redemptrix", Zenit, October 21, 2002
- Ott 256
- Gabriel Roschini, Compendium Mariologiae, Roma 1946.
- Schmaus, Mariologie, München, 1955, 328
- “As the Blessed Virgin Mary does not seem to participate in the public life of Jesus Christ, and then, suddenly appears at the stations of his cross, she is not there without divine intention. She suffers with her suffering and dying son, almost as if she would have died herself. For the salvation of mankind, she gave up her rights as the mother of her son.” Pope Benedict XV, Apostolic Letter Inter soldalica.
- “and sacrificed him for the reconciliation of divine justice, as far as she was permitted to do.” Benedict XV, ibidem. – “It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall.” Pope Ven. Pius XII, encyclical Mystici corporis.
- St. Ambrose, De inst. virg. 7, cited from Ott, Dogmatics.
- Pope St. Pius X, encyclical Ad diem illum 14
- “Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ. Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother.” Leo XIII, encyclical Octobri mense 4. Ott, Dogmatics, Mariology § 7 even thinks that, in spite of uncertain evidence in the Sources of Faith, a dogmatic definition does not seem impossible.
- 1Tim 2,5
- Ott Dogmatics 256
- Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium 62, citing St. Ambrose, Epist. 63: PL 16, 1218.
- Munificentissimus Deus 40
- Otto Hermann Pesch Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil, Echter, 1993, 194.
- Perrella O.S.M., Salvatore M., "Mary's Cooperation in Work of Redemption: Present State of Question", L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 2 July 1997, p. 9
- Frederick William. The foot of the Cross; or, The sorrows of Mary, p.449, Thomas Richardson and Son, 1858
- Faber p.448.
- L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English 25 June 1997, page 10
- Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Catholic Herald, 1997-08-22, p.7.
- Father Salvatore Perrella, The Message, 1997-09-05, p.5.
- L'Osservatore Romano, January 1996
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversion with Peter Seewald. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2002, p. 306