The theology of Joseph Ratzinger has had a profound effect on Catholic theology and the Catholic Church as a whole. His is a theology grounded in Scripture (1) and influenced by the Fathers of the Church as well as the great medieval theologians, especially St. Bonaventure. Ratzinger’s writing is brilliant, lucid, and illuminating. We are truly blessed to have him, now as Pope Benedict XVI, as the Vicar of Christ and leader of the Kingdom of God on earth, Holy Mother Church. Ratzinger has also played a very important role in my life and is the impetus for my love of theology. I started reading the then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the fall of 2004 as an Anglican. By the fall of 2005, I had decided to convert to Catholicism and entered into full communion with the Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil of 2006. Pope Benedict seems to have that effect on people!
The first book of Ratzinger’s that I read was God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald. This was the spark I needed to shake the lukewarmness and laxity of faith and catapult me into a burning desire to truly know and love God and to embrace all aspects of his Kingdom. One of these aspects was the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ the God-made-man. As an Anglican, I knew about Mary and recognized her importance (to a certain extent), but I still wasn’t willing to go as far as the Catholic Church did concerning her. Yet after reading the section on the “Mother of God” in God and the World, I realized that Mary had a greater role in salvation history than I had thought. It was also here that I discovered the Rosary, that great prayer and devotion that meditates on the mysteries of Christ’s life through the eyes of his Blessed Mother. In the book, Ratzinger says that the Rosary “brings great images and visions and above all the figure of Mary—and then, through her, the figure of Jesus—before my eyes and in my soul” (2). He also says that concerning faith and belief in Christ, “For many people—history shows this—looking at Mary is first of all a door by which to enter” (3). Ad Jesum per Mariam—To Jesus thru Mary. St. Louis de Montfort calls this the most perfect way to Christ. But I still wasn’t sure if I should pray the Rosary. Wasn’t that a Catholic thing? At this point I had no desire to become Catholic (even if my favorite theologian happened to be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Catholic Church!). Yet, Ratzinger also mentions, “Pascal once said to an unbelieving friend: Start by doing what believers do, even if it still makes no sense to you” (4). Trusting in his wisdom, I started praying the Rosary. This simple act of devotion (which wasn’t at all a consistent practice for me at the time) was enough for Our Lady to take me into her motherly arms and carry me to the Catholic Church; the one true Church, established by Christ with Peter as its head and continuing on down through an unbroken line of succession to the present Vicar of Christ (Joseph Ratzinger/ Benedict XVI!) and the bishops in union with him, in which Christ is truly present in the Sacraments and most of all in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, the Eucharist. Truly all things are possible with God!
I am a Catholic today by the grace of God, who led me to read Ratzinger (the future Vicar of his Kingdom), who planted the seed for a great love and devotion to Our Blessed Mother Mary, whose example has led me to an even greater devotion to her Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Ratzinger in describing the Biblical sources of the prayer, Ave Maria, speaks of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth who says, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Ratzinger continues:
Elizabeth then adds: “All generations will call you blessed,” thus also predicting the devotion offered to Mary. That is spoken prophetically, in the Holy Spirit. In other words: Christians will also give praise to God by rejoicing over people in whom he has shown how great and how good he is (5).
It would follow then, that since God has “shown how great and how good he is” most concretely in the creation of the Blessed Virgin as the Immaculate One, Mary should be the creature that is “rejoiced over” and venerated more than any other, thereby giving the ultimate praise to God. When asked what the Mother of God means to him personally, Ratzinger replies,
Over and above the liturgical feasts of Mary, the May devotions, the October Rosary, the places of pilgrimage—the popular devotion to Mary, that is—have always meant a lot to me. And the older I am, the more the Mother of God is important to me and close to me (6).
Indeed, the older Ratzinger has gotten, the deeper his love for Mary Most Holy has become! Mary now has a profound and central role in his faith, after our Lord Jesus Christ. But she didn’t always occupy this role in his theology. For his thought on Mary as a young priest at the Second Vatican Council was leaning towards a minimalist view (as was the case with all the representative bishops and theologians from Germany). In this article, I will trace out Ratzinger’s Mariological journey of thought from his early days as a priest and theological advisor at the Second Vatican Council to his full embrace of the truth about Mary as the Vicar of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI. His is a journey of true conversion which gives much glory to Our Blessed Mother and in so doing glorifies her Son, Jesus Christ, infinitely more.
As a young priest before and during the Second Vatican Council, Father Joseph Ratzinger was labeled a “progressive” and in some cases a “liberal.” His Mariology could certainly be classified in these terms. He once told an interviewer:
As a young theologian in the time before (and also during) the Council, I had as many did then and still do today, some reservations in regard to certain ancient formulas, as, for example, that famous De Maria nunquam satis, “concerning Mary one can never say enough.” It seemed exaggerated to me. So it was difficult for me later to understand the true meaning of another famous expression (current in the Church since the first centuries when– after a memorable dispute– the Council of Ephesus, in 431, had proclaimed Mary Theotokos, Mother of God). The declaration, namely, that designated the Virgin as “the conqueror of all heresies” (7).
One of the direct influences on Ratzinger’s thought was his homeland. German theology, and particularly Catholic German theology, is, by virtue of being the place of the birth of Protestantism, colored with an ecumenical flavor. Naturally, the place of Mariology is going to be watered down in this atmosphere so as not to offend the sensibilities of our Protestant brethren. But should the concern to not offend our separated brethren direct the truths about Mary in Catholic theology? The German theologians at the Second Vatican Council certainly thought it should. Father Ratzinger was one of those German theologians. As a young priest, he wasn’t merely in the background either. Rather, he was an up-and-coming theologian who had already made a name for himself, thus attending the Council as the peritus (theological advisor) to one of the most influential cardinals of the day, Josef Cardinal Frings. Ratzinger also worked closely with his former teacher Karl Rahner, who was one of the lead organizers of the German theologians.
When asked what is specific about the way he does theology, Ratzinger replied, “I began with the theme of the Church, and it is present in everything” (8). Certainly this is true and a very effective way of doing theology, but when it comes to Mariology as an independent field within theology, ecclesiological Mariology is the lowest form. No doubt Hugo Rahner had an influence on Ratzinger in terms of combining Mariology and Ecclesiology (9). Yet, Mariology must begin with Mary’s relationship to Christ. If you begin by saying that Mary is “just” a member of the Church, you don’t proceed to elements of the Mother of Jesus. The Blessed Virgin comes before the Church, which allows the Church to come to life. Without Our Lady’s fiat, there would be no Church. This is why when John XXIII inquired of the bishops of the Church what they would like discussed at the Council, the overwhelming response was a solemn definition of Our Lady’s Maternal Mediation. The Council’s intention however was not to define new dogmas, and so this did not happen. Yet in the original documents of the Council, the Blessed Virgin Mary was treated in a separate schema than the Church. The separate schema became “a source of the greatest concern” amongst Rahner, Ratzinger, and the other German members of the Council (10). According to the statement issued by Rahner to the German Council Fathers, “unimaginable harm would result from an ecumenical point of view, in relation to both Orientals and Protestants” if the schema were to be approved (11). He suggested that the schema be made into either a chapter of the schema on the Church or as an epilogue. He claimed that “this would be the easiest way to delete from the schema statements which, theologically, are not sufficiently developed and which could only do incalculable harm from an ecumenical point of view. It would also prevent bitter discussion” (12). Of course “bitter discussion” also arises from issues such as the papacy, prayers to the saints, justification, etc. Does that mean we should eliminate these truths of the faith? In attacking specifically the schema’s teaching on the mediation of Our Lady and its attribution to her of the title “Mediatrix of all graces,” Rahner argued:
It declares that there is no intention of defining new dogmas, and at the same time presents certain teachings as though they already belonged to the doctrine of the Church, although they are not as yet dogmas and, from a modern theological standpoint, cannot become dogmas (13).
One gets the impression that Rahner does not know the difference between a doctrine and a dogma. In his book, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, Fr. Wiltgen tells us that the teaching on Mary’s mediation as well as the title “Mediatrix of all graces” “was not proposed as a dogma of faith, but rather as a doctrine commonly held by Catholics” (14). Fr. Wiltgen also tells us that “Father Ratzinger, the personal theologian of Cardinal Frings, and former student of Father Rahner, had seemed to give an almost unquestioning support to the views of his former teacher during the Council” (15). Yet, there was still hope for Ratzinger as Fr. Wiltgen tells us, “But as it was drawing to a close, he admitted that he disagreed on various points, and said he would begin to assert himself more after the Council was over” (16). I think that Ratzinger’s early Mariology, with its German influence, can be best summed up in a story that Ratzinger tells in his memoirs:
Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was defined, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative. What here became evident was the one-sidedness, not only of the historical, but also of the historicist method in theology. “Tradition” was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, the patrologist from Wurzburg (who also had come from Breslau), had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the fifth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the “apostolic tradition.” And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared (17).
He goes on to tell of the Catholic Gottlieb Sohngen, who was passionately against the Dogma of the Assumption, who when asked by a Lutheran theologian:
“But what will you do if the dogma is nevertheless defined? Won’t you then have to turn your back on the Catholic Church?” After reflecting for a moment, Sohngen answered: “If the dogma comes, then I will remember that the Church is wiser than I and that I must trust her more than my own erudition.” I think that this small scene says everything about the spirit in which theology was done here–both critically and with faith (18).
It was the addition of faith added to a critical outlook that helped Ratzinger move out of this early stage of Marian thought.
“The immediate outcome of the victory of ecclesiocentric Mariology was the collapse of Mariology altogether” (19). Ratzinger was able to recognize this after the Council and its resultant decade without Mary. This led him to write about Mary in ways that countered the Marian minimalism of Vatican II. Already in 1968, three years after the end of the Council, Ratzinger wrote in his masterpiece, Introduction To Christianity, that Mary “does not contest or endanger the exclusiveness of salvation through Christ; she points to it” (20). Mary’s supposed diminishment of Christ was a huge ecumenical concern at the Council, and thus a huge concern for the German Council Fathers. Later on in his life he will say:
To think of Christ and Mary as being in competition means ignoring the essential distinction between these two figures. Christ gives John, and through John all of us, the Mother. That is not competition, but a most profound kind of intimacy. The Mother and Virgin forms an essential part of the Christian picture of man (21).
Also, in his first Marian work Daughter Zion, although it is still very much ecclesialogical Mariology, Ratzinger begins to develop his thought on Mary in a fuller sense. Right from the beginning of the book he critiques Hans Kung, his former colleague from Tubingen, and his stance on Marian piety (22). He argues that devotion to Mary isn’t just a simple form of piety for the superstitious laity, nor does the honor paid to the Blessed Virgin stem from an excess of pagan woman cult that Christianity failed to cleanse itself of. Rather, he says that “If one begins by reading backwards or, more precisely, from the end to the beginning, it becomes obvious that the image of Mary in the New Testament is woven entirely of Old Testament threads” (23). Hence, “All consequent Marian piety and theology is fundamentally based upon the Old Testament’s deeply anchored theology of woman, a theology indispensable to its entire structure” (24).
In Daughter Zion, Ratzinger also talks about the Wisdom texts of the Old Testament and the argument by some that they only warrant a Christological interpretation. He goes on to say, “After years of wholehearted agreement with this latter view, it is ever clearer to me that it actually misjudges what is most characteristic in those Wisdom texts” (25). What is characteristic about the Wisdom texts is that they tell of Yahweh’s love for his Bride, Israel. He goes on to say that in Hebrew and Greek “wisdom” is feminine, and likewise the Hebrew word for “Spirit” is also feminine. He insists that “this is no empty grammatical phenomenon in antiquity’s vivid awareness of language” (26). With this in mind, Ratzinger is able to assert that “the eradication of the Marian interpretation of sophiology ultimately leaves out an entire dimension of the biblical and Christian mystery” (27). He concludes his treatment on the place of Mariology in the Bible:
Thus we can now say that the figure of the woman is indispensable for the structure of biblical faith. She expresses the reality of creation as well as the fruitfulness of grace. The abstract outlines for the hope that God will turn toward his people receive, in the New Testament, a concrete, personal name in the figure of Jesus Christ. At the same moment, the figure of the woman, until then seen only typologically in Israel although provisionally personified by the great women of Israel, also emerges with a name: Mary. … To deny or reject the feminine aspect in belief, or, more concretely, the Marian aspect, leads finally to the negation of creation and the invalidation of grace. It leads to a picture of God’s omnipotence that reduces the creature to a mere masquerade and that also completely fails to understand the God of the Bible, who is characterized as being the creator and the God of the covenant—the God for whom the beloved’s punishment and rejection themselves become the passion of love, the cross (28).
From here we move to the next stage in Ratzinger’s Mariology. One can only speculate that a combination of study, prayer, and the influence of Pope John Paul II (with whom he developed a very close friendship as Prefect for the CDF), led to a flourishing of Ratzinger’s Mariology. In the book The Ratzinger Report, in which he is interviewed by Vittorio Messori, we some of the highest Mariology expressed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. He sees Mary as the remedy for the crisis in the Church today. Our Lady shows the Church what it means to be pure and chaste and what it truly means to be “woman.” In this way she is the remedy against immorality and radical feminism. Also at this point in his life, Ratzinger sees the truth in the statement that he had such a hard time professing in his youth; Mary is the conqueror of all heresies:
Now—in this confused period where truly every type of heretical aberration seems to be pressing upon the doors of the authentic faith—now I understand that it was not a matter of pious exaggerations, but of truths that today are more valid than ever … it is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to that “truth about Jesus Christ,” “truth about the Church” and the “truth about man” that John Paul II proposed as a program to the whole of Christianity (29).
It is urgent that we rediscover the Marian dimension of faith in order to safeguard orthodoxy.
Only the Marian dimension secures the place of affectivity in faith and thus ensures a fully human correspondence to the reality of the incarnate Logos. … This affective rooting guarantees the bond ex toto corde—from the depth of the heart—to the personal God and his Christ and rules out any recasting of Christology into a Jesus program, which can be atheistic and purely neutral (30).
A proper Mariology leads to a proper Christology! “Only when it touches Mary and becomes Mariology is Christology itself as radical as the faith of the Church requires. The appearance of a truly Marian awareness serves as the touchstone indicating whether or not the Christological substance is fully present” (31). This is the first of six reasons Cardinal Ratzinger gives for not forgetting Mary. These six reasons provide a summation of his entire Mariology and show the extent to which Mary has become a vital and important part of his theological outlook.
The second reason he proposes is that “the Mariology of the Church comprises the right relationship, the necessary integration between Scripture and Tradition” (32). He insists that the four Marian dogmas are grounded in Scripture, yet not all in an explicit manner. Rather the Word of God serves as a seed for Marian truths that grow and develop through the Tradition of the Church in her liturgy, the sensus fidelium, and the discernment of the theological reflection of the Magisterium.
His third reason is that within the person of Mary subsists the unity of between the Old and the New Testaments.
Wherever the unity of Old and New Testaments disintegrates, the place of a healthy Mariology is lost. Likewise this unity of Testaments guarantees the integrity of the doctrines of creation and of grace. In modern times, however, the loss of typological exegesis (seeing the cohesion of the one history in the many histories) has actually led to the separation of the Testaments, and by isolating the doctrine of grace it has at the same time increasingly threatened the doctrine of creation (33).
Mary ensures the complete unity of Sacred Scripture guarding against Judaism’s rejection of the New Testament and a Marcionist hermeneutic that throws out the Old.
The fourth reason we must not forget Mary, Ratzinger argues, is that with correct Marian devotion, consisting of head and heart (reason and faith), the full human dimension of faith is assured. “For the Church, man is neither mere reason nor mere feeling, he is the unity of these two dimensions” (34). In this way, Mary becomes the model for true devotion and prayer. She also, “who cherished the living Word in the recollected quiet of her heart and thus was privileged to become the Mother of the incarnate Word, is the abiding pattern for all genuine worship, the Star which illuminates even a dark heaven and shows us the way” (35). Above all, the Blessed Virgin shows us the importance of humility in worship. We see this clearly in the Gospel of Luke with Mary’s Magnificat. Following St. Ambrose, Ratzinger tells us that “to magnify the Lord” doesn’t mean to add anything to God (which is impossible). On the contrary, it means:
not to want to magnify ourselves, our own name, our own ego; not to spread ourselves and take up more space, but to give him room so that he may be more present in the world. It means to become more truly what we are: not a self-enclosed monad that displays nothing but itself, but God’s image. It means to get free of the dust and soot that obscures and begrimes the transparency of the image and to become truly human by pointing exclusively to him (36).
Mary, thus, is the most truly human, because she points to God perfectly, beyond any other human. By having proper devotion to Mary, we strive to imitate this humility. We also enter into the mysteries of Scripture in fulfilling Our Lady’s prophecy that “all generations” shall call her blessed. We must always remember that “the Church neglects one of the duties enjoined upon her when she does not praise Mary. She deviates from the word of the Bible when her Marian devotion falls silent. When this happens, in fact, the Church no longer even glorifies God as she ought” (37). Yet, “in order to praise Mary correctly and thus glorify God correctly, we must listen to all that Scripture and tradition say concerning the Mother of the Lord and ponder it in our hearts” (38).
Ratzinger’s fifth reason is that Mary is the image of the Church. “The Church learns concretely what she is and is meant to be by looking at Mary” (39). Like the Blessed Virgin, the Church is meant to be the dwelling place of God. “He is a person, and the Church is a person. The more that each one of us becomes a person, person in the sense of a fit habitation for God, daughter Zion, the more we become one, the more we are the Church, and the more the Church is herself (40). Mary reminds the Church that she is a Mother whose purpose is to lead her children to the heavenly glory of the Father. The Church cannot be used as, Ratzinger reminds us,
a program of social-political action … and cannot degenerate into the complexity of a party, an organization or a pressure group in the service of human interests, even the noblest. If Mary no longer finds a place in many theologies and ecclesiologies, the reason is obvious: they have reduced the faith to an abstraction. And an abstraction does not need a Mother (41).
The sixth and final reason Ratzinger gives for not forgetting Mary is of immense importance for the world today. The reason is that Mary is the exemplar of true femininity. She contains within herself pure virginal chastity and at the same time possesses motherhood in its fullest reality. The Blessed Virgin Mother is the counterweight to today’s culture which promotes immorality and licentiousness, and encourages women to kill their own children. She provides the true meaning of “woman” which our culture has cast aside leading to the masculinization of women and the ambiguity of gender.
Through her virginity and her motherhood, the mystery of woman receives a very lofty destiny from which she cannot be torn away. Mary undauntedly proclaims the Magnificat, but she is also the one who renders silence and seclusion fruitful. She is the one who does not fear to stand under the Cross, who is present at the birth of the Church. But she is also the one who, as the evangelist emphasizes more than once, “keeps and ponders in her heart” that which transpires around her. As a creature of courage and of obedience she was and is still an example to which every Christian—man and woman—can and should look (42).
Now we move into the present stage of Joseph Ratzinger’s thought on Mary. This stage began in April 2005 with the ascension of Cardinal Ratzinger to the See of Peter. Now as Pope Benedict XVI, his Mariology is center stage for all the world to see. Right from the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict has shown that he can follow in the Marian footsteps of his illustrious predecessor. In his very first homily as Pope on April 20, 2005, he declares: “I invoke the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, in whose hands I place the present and the future of my person and of the Church” (43). Since then, he has been constantly placing his life and the Church in the hands of the Blessed Mother in speeches and homilies wherever he goes. In his first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Benedict concludes by showing that Mary is the prime example of God’s love.
Mary, Virgin and Mother, shows us what love is and … has truly become the Mother of all believers. Men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness and her virginal purity and grace, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common endeavors. They constantly experience the gift of her goodness and the unfailing love which she pours out from the depths of her heart (44).
In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict calls Mary the tota pulchra, speaks beautifully of Mary in terms of her co-redemptive mission (which we will discuss later), and says that she is “the great Believer who places herself confidently in God’s hands, abandoning herself to his will” (45). Elsewhere, the Holy Father continues his praise for Mary Most Holy. During his address on May 31, 2005, for the conclusion of the Marian month of May, he describes Mary’s Visitation to St. Elizabeth as “the first Eucharistic procession in history” and calls Our Lady “a deeply Eucharistic soul” (46). On August 15, 2006, in a homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Benedict describes the saints as mirrors of the light of God in which Mary shines the brightest.
And it is precisely by looking at Mary’s face that we can see more clearly than in any other way the beauty, goodness and mercy of God. In her face we can truly perceive the divine light…Mary does not merely invite our admiration and veneration, but she guides us, shows us the way of life, shows us how we can become blessed, how to find the path of happiness (47).
For the next close of the Marian month in 2006, Benedict took up the themes of Our Lady’s advocacy and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He tells of his journey to the Shrine of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa earlier that year where he realized the full extent of Mary’s intercession for her children, which causes him to profess:
I would also like to express to Mary my gratitude for the support she offers me in my daily service to the Church. I know that I can count on her help in every situation; indeed, I know that she foresees with maternal intuition all her children’s needs and intervenes effectively to sustain them: this has been the experience of the Christian people ever since its first steps in Jerusalem (48).
Concerning True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he says:
Whoever opens his or her heart to the Mother encounters and welcomes the Son and is pervaded by his joy. True Marian devotion never obscures or diminishes faith and love for Jesus Christ our Savior, the one Mediator between God and humankind. On the contrary, entrustment to Our Lady is a privileged path, tested by numerous saints, for a more faithful following of the Lord. Consequently, let us entrust ourselves to her with filial abandonment! (49)
Most recently on January 1, 2007, on the occasion of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Benedict gives a homily extolling Mary as Mother and Virgin, two realities that present the full mystery of Our Lady. He continues by saying that “as Mother of Christ, Mary is also Mother of the Church” as well as “the Spiritual Mother of all humanity, because Jesus on the Cross shed his blood for all of us and from the Cross he entrusted us all to her maternal care” (50). As one can see, Pope Benedict has great love for his Spiritual Mother.
In the final part of this article we must address Ratzinger’s thought on Mary’s title of “Spiritual Mother of all humanity” or “Spiritual Mother of All Peoples” and specifically its aspect of Mary as Co-redemptrix. The reason being is that with more than a million people petitioning the Holy Father (as was also the case with his predecessor) for a solemn definition of Our Lady’s doctrinal role as Co-redemptrix, it is a key point for the development of Mariology today. Not to mention that it has been supported by the likes of St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Padre Pio, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and Fatima visionary Sr. Lucia. Also in the apparitions of Our Lady of All Nations to Ida Peerdaman (which has been approved by the local bishop), the Blessed Mother explicitly calls for the solemn definition of the titles Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate which are three aspects of the doctrine of Mary as the Spiritual Mother of All Peoples (51). We have seen above that Benedict has already referred to Our Lady as “Spiritual Mother of all humanity” and he has also called her “our heavenly Advocate” (52) and doesn’t seem to have any problems with her being the “Mediatrix of all graces.” Yet when asked, in a 2000 interview by Peter Seewald contained in the book God and the World, whether the Church would go along with the desire to solemnly define Mary as Co-redemptrix, Ratzinger’s response doesn’t look good. He says that the title Co-redemptrix “departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings” (53). He also says that “for matters of faith, continuity of terminology with the language of Scripture and that of the Fathers is itself an essential element; it is improper simply to manipulate language” (54).
As for departing too far from the language of Scripture, Co-redemptrix is more in line with Scripture than other accepted words such as “transubstantiation,” “homoousios,” or “Trinity.” Not to mention the fact that the title “Co-redemptrix” is already a doctrinal title of Our Blessed Mother in the Church! Co-redemptrix only becomes confusing when it is not properly explained. A solemn definition will precisely explain it. It will let everyone know of Mary’s unique role “with and under” (which is what “co” means) Christ the Redeemer in the mission of salvation. The Fathers may have not used the word “Co-redemptrix” in their writings, but the thought was definitely there! Besides they were too occupied with defining Christological terms in order to protect the faith against the many heresies of their time. Tradition and development of doctrine doesn’t cease with the end of the Patristic Age! I have no doubt that Ratzinger was aware of all this while he was being interviewed. So then why the negative reaction to Co-redemptrix? One can speculate that it had to do with his current position as Prefect for the CDF at the time of the interview. If Ratzinger expressed an outright affirmation for the title amidst the millions petitioning its solemn definition, it would appear that he was giving it the stamp of approval by the CDF. Let us take a look at what Ratzinger has to say about Our Lady before and after this interview.
In his writings and homilies, Cardinal Ratzinger has expressed the idea of Mary’s Co-redemption many times. He may not explicitly say the word “Co-redemptrix,” but the reality still exists whether he uses the title or not. In March of 1979, Ratzinger told the German Bishops Conference in a homily:
Mariology is an essential component of a hermeneutics of salvation history. Recognition of this fact brings out the true dimensions of Christology over against a falsely understood solus Christus (Christ alone). Christology must speak of a Christ who is both “head and body,” that is, who comprises the redeemed creation in its relative subsistence. But this move simultaneously enlarges our perspective beyond the history of salvation, because it counters a false understanding of God’s sole agency, highlighting the reality of the creature that God calls and enables to respond to him freely (55).
Later, in the same homily, Ratzinger touches on an essential aspect of Mary’s role as Co-redemptrix. This aspect is Mary’s co-suffering and co-passion with Christ at Calvary. As Christ suffers physically on the Cross, Mary suffers mystically, her heart pierced by the prophesied sword.
Mary’s path includes the experience of rejection (Mk 3:31-35; Jn 2:24). When she is given away under the Cross (Jn 19:26), this experience becomes a participation in the rejection that Jesus himself had to endure on the Mount of Olives (Mk 14:34) and on the Cross (Mk 15:34). Only in this rejection can the new come to pass; only in a going away can the true coming take place (Jn 16:7). Marian piety is thus necessarily a Passion-centered piety. In the prophecy of the aged Simeon, who foretold that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart (Lk 2:35), Luke interweaves from the very outset the Incarnation and the Passion, the joyful and the sorrowful mysteries. … Looking toward the Mater assumpta, the Virgin Mother assumed into heaven, Advent broadens into eschatology. In this sense, the medieval expansion of Marian piety beyond Advent into the whole ensemble of the mysteries of salvation is entirely in keeping with the logic of biblical faith (56).
Mary participates in the act of redemption with and under Christ. This is exactly what the title Co-redemptrix expresses! He even admits here that this is “entirely in keeping with the logic of biblical faith.”
Ratzinger talks more about this inclusion of Mary “into the whole ensemble of the mysteries of salvation” in relation to Scripture and the Fathers in his introductory essay on John Paul II’s Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, in 1987. In the context of Genesis 3:15, he says:
The Fathers saw God’s words of punishment to the serpent after the Fall as a first promise of the Redeemer—an allusion to the Descendant that bruises the serpent’s head. There has never been a moment in history without a gospel. At the very moment of the Fall, the promise also begins. The Fathers also attached importance to the fact that Christology and Mariology are inseparably interwoven already in this primordial beginning. The first promise of Christ, which stands in a chiaroscuro and which only the light to come finally deciphers, is a promise to and through the woman (57).
Mary is the woman inseparably united to the Redeemer of the Protoevangelium, the Co-Redemptrix!
In an essay from a 1992 issue of Communio entitled “‘Hail, Full of Grace’: Elements of Marian Piety According to the Bible,” Ratzinger returns to the theme of Mary’s co-passion with Christ. He says that the prophecy told by Simeon points to Calvary. This brings Cardinal Ratzinger to recall the words spoke to David by the prophet Nathan after the former falls into sin: “You … have slain (Uriah the Hittite) with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Sam 12:9-10). He says that this “sword that hangs over David’s house now strikes Mary’s heart. In the true David, Christ, and in his Mother, the Pure Virgin, the curse is suffered through and overcome” (58). This is an incredibly strong meditation for someone who will, eight years later, say that Mary should not be called “Co-redemptrix.” And yet he continues!
The sword shall pierce her heart—this statement foreshadows the Son’s Passion, which will become her own passion. This passion already begins with her next visit to the Temple: she must accept the precedence of Jesus’ true Father and of his house, the Temple; she must learn to release the Son she has borne. … By this means Mary is prepared for the mystery of the Cross, which does not simply end on Golgotha. Her Son remains a sign of contradiction, and she is thus kept to the very end in the pain of this contradiction, in the pain of her messianic motherhood (59).
Ratzinger seals his treatment of Mary’s compassion (which is the basis for Co-redemption) with these beautiful words:
In the compassionate Mother, sufferers of all ages have found the purest reflection of the divine compassion that is the only true consolation. For, looked at in its deepest essence, all pain, all suffering is solitude, loss of love, the wrecked happiness of the rejected. Only the “com,” the “with,” can heal pain. … In her, God’s maternal affliction is open to view. In her we can behold it and touch it. She is the compassio of God, displayed in a human being who has let herself be drawn wholly into God’s mystery. … The Pieta completes the picture of the Cross, because Mary is the accepted Cross, the Cross communicating itself in love, the Cross that now allows us to experience in her compassion the compassion of God. In this way the Mother’s affliction is Easter affliction, which already inaugurates the transformation of death into the redemptive being-with of love” (60).
Out of all the saints I have read, I have never seen Mary’s Co-redemption expressed in such clear and definite terms! We must not forget either that this is in the context of elements of Marian piety according to the Bible.
Three years later, in March of 1995, Cardinal Ratzinger gave an introductory address for the Mariological Congress on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Shrine of Loreto. In it he vividly describes Our Lady’s role in the work of redemption along side her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He starts off by pondering the sentence from the Nicene Creed, Et Incarnatus Est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine (By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man).
The dramatic feature of this sentence is that it does not assert some eternal truth about the being of God; rather, it expresses an action, which on closer inspection turns out to be in the passive voice, something that happens to him. It is to the action thus described, in which the three Divine Persons all play a part, that the “ex Maria virgine” refers; indeed, the dramatic aspect of the whole depends on it. For without Mary the entire process of God’s stepping into history would fail of its object, would fail to achieve that very thing which is central in the Creed—that God is a God with us and not just a God in himself and for himself (61).
He goes on to say that the “Incarnation required acceptance. Only thus could Word and flesh become truly one” (62). Another of the keys to Mary as Co-redemptrix is that she played an active part in the mission of redemption. What could be more active than mediating the Redeemer to the entire world for the sake of its salvation? Ratzinger then quotes St. Augustine as saying “He who created you without your aid did not wish to redeem you without your aid” (63). And this is just one of the many Co-redemptrix formulas ascribed to Mary by the Church Fathers! Cardinal Ratzinger continues on to examine the Annunciation and its significance in salvation history. He concludes:
The entire mystery of redemption is present in this story and is summed up in the figure of the Virgin Mary: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (64).
Nearing the end of his talk, Ratzinger touches on the Prologue of John’s Gospel. He relates verse 13 as pointing to the conversation with Nicodemus and the bringing forth of new life from baptism.
To become a Christian means to be brought in to share in this new beginning. Becoming a Christian is more than turning to new ideas, to a new morality, to a new community. The transformation that happens here has all the drastic quality of a real birth, of a new creation. But in this sense the Virgin Mother is once more standing at the center of the redemption event. With her whole being, she stands surety for the new thing that God has brought about (65).
Five years later, in God and the World, Ratzinger seems to negate all of his thought on Mary as Co-redemptrix in one interview … or does he? One would think that if this were the case, when he became the Pope, he would no longer describe Mary in such co-redemptive terms. Yet this is not the case at all! In his homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption in 2006, Benedict suggests that “By saying, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word,’ Mary prepared God’s dwelling here on earth; with her body and soul, she became his dwelling place and thereby opened the earth to heaven” (66). Then on December 8, 2006, during a prayer in tribute to the statue of Mary Immaculate Conception, he says:
“Full of grace” are you, Mary, full of divine love from the very first moment of your existence, providentially predestined to be Mother of the Redeemer and intimately connected to him in the mystery of salvation. … “Full of grace” are you, Mary, which, welcoming with your “yes” to the Creator’s plan, opened to us the path of salvation. Teach us also at your school to say our “yes” to the Lord’s will. Let it be a “yes” that joins with your own “yes,” without reservations or shadows, a “yes” that the Heavenly Father willed to have need of in order to beget the new Man, Christ, the one Savior of the World and of history (67).
But the most explicit statement on Mary as Co-redemptrix so far by Pope Benedict is in his recent Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis. He says that the mystery of Mary placing herself completely without abandon into God’s hands deepens “as she becomes completely involved in the redemptive mission of Jesus” (68). He then quotes Lumen Gentium 58, the Marian co-redemptive passage of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:
“The blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son until she stood at the Cross, in keeping with the divine plan (cf. Jn 19:25), suffering deeply with her only-begotten Son, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim who was born of her. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus, dying on the Cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: ‘Woman, behold your Son’” (69).
Benedict finishes up his treatment of the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary by saying, “She is the Immaculata, who receives God’s gift unconditionally and is thus associated with his work of salvation” (70). After reading this treatment on Mary (regardless of the fact that Benedict never uses the word, the reality is still there), anyone who is involved with the movement for the solemn definition of Our Lady as Co-redemptrix can’t help but sit up and take notice; filled with an air of hope and expectation.
Will Pope Benedict do what many hoped his predecessor, John Paul II, would have done and thus usher in an age of peace associated with the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart as many believe the solemn definition will achieve? Only God knows and only time will tell. But one thing we can know is that Pope Benedict’s lifelong journey with Our Lady has been a very fruitful one. It has been a time of enormous conversion brought on by faith, study, and total abandonment to and trust in the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has gone from Marian minimalist to De Maria nunquam satis, “concerning Mary one can never say enough.” He has learned that Mary truly is the conqueror of all heresies. It is she, the Theotókos, who safeguards the faith. She doesn’t subtract from or diminish Christ in any way. Rather she leads us lovingly by the hand to her beloved Son, the Redeemer and Savior of the World, the cause for the hope that is in us.
May Mary, Our Mother, guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and help him as he steers the bark of Peter ever closer to the eschatological sunset, guiding all the faithful to the Son that has no end. Amen.
Danny Garland, Jr., is a graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
(1) Cf. Scott W. Hahn, “The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI” in the journal Letter & Spirit II- The Authority of Mystery: The Word of God & the People of God, ed. Scott W. Hahn (Steubenville, OH: St. Paul Center, 2006).
(2) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2002 (2000)), 319.
(3) Ibid., 321.
(5) Ibid., 295.
(6) Ibid., 296.
(7) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, trans. Salvator Attansio and Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985), 105.
(8) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium. An Interview with Peter Seewald, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997 (1996)), 65.
(9) Cf. Joseph Cardinal Raztinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, trans. Henry Taylor, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnur (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005 (2002)), 150.
(10) Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1985), 91.
(14) Ibid., 92.
(15) Ibid., 285.
(17) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998 (1997)), 58. Emphasis added.
(18) Ibid., 59.
(19) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary: The Church at the Source, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005 (1997)), 24.
(20) Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J.R. Foster (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004 (1968)), 280.
(21) God and the World, 302.
(22) Cf. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Daughter Zion, trans. John M. McDermott, S.J. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983 (1977)), 10.
(23) Ibid., 12.
(24) Ibid., 12-13.
(25) Ibid., 26.
(27) Ibid., 27.
(28) Ibid., 27-28.
(29) The Ratzinger Report, 105-106.
(30) Mary: The Church at the Source, 27. Emphasis in the original.
(31) Daughter Zion, 35.
(32) The Ratzinger Report, 107.
(33) Daughter Zion, 32-33.
(34) The Ratzinger Report, 108.
(35) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986 (1981)), 153.
(36) Mary: The Church at the Source, 75.
(37) Ibid., 62.
(38) Ibid., 63.
(39) Ibid., 66.
(41) The Ratzinger Report, 108.
(42) Ibid., 108-109.
(43) Pope Benedict XVI, The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches, ed. John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007), 29.
(44) Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (Boston: Pauline, 2006), #42, 58.
(45) Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis #33, 96. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html
(46) Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI During the Prayer Meeting in the Vatican Gardens For the Conclusion of the Marian Month of May, 2005. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050531_rosary-may_en.html
(47) Homily for the Mass On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2006. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20060815_assunzione-maria_en.html
(48) Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI During the Prayer Meeting in the Vatican Gardens For the Conclusion of the Marian Month of May, 2006. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060531_mese-mariano_en.html
(50) Emphasis in the original. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20070101_world-day-peace_en.html
(51) Cf. The Messages of The Lady of All Nations, ed. Josef Kunzli (Goleta, CA: Queenship, 1996).
(52) Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI During the Prayer Meeting in the Vatican Gardens For the Conclusion of the Marian Month of May, 2006.
(53) God and the World, 306.
(55) Mary: The Church at the Source, 31.
(56) Ibid., 35. Emphasis added.
(57) Ibid., 51-52. Emphasis added.
(58) Ibid., 76. Emphasis added.
(59) Ibid. Emphasis added.
(60) Ibid., 77-79. Emphasis added.
(61) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God is Near Us: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life, trans. Henry Taylor, ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnur (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2003 (2001)), 13. Emphasis added.
(64) Ibid., 20.
(65) Ibid., 23. Emphasis added.
(66) Homily for the Mass On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20060815_assunzione-maria_en.html
(67) Tribute of the Holy Father to the Statue of Mary Immaculate Conception. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20061208_piazza-spagna_en.html
(68) Sacramentum Caritatis, 33. Emphasis added. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html
(70) Ibid. Emphasis added.