Co-Redeemers in Christ: the Church as Type of Mary Co-Redemptrix

Updated: May 30, 2020

I. The Nature of Typology and its Relation to Mary and the Church

The classic meaning of typology derives principally from its significance in scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics. Old Testament typology is essentially linked with its New Testament fulfillment. The meaning of “type” refers essentially to a person, place, thing, or event which signifies something greater than itself. It is metaphysically not so much a question of time, i.e., which came first, but of essence, i.e., which possesses the greater goodness, truth, or beauty.

As we know, the supernatural significance of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, or David, does not cease in these men themselves, regardless of how profound or supernatural their roles in covenantal salvation history, but can only be fully understood in light of their typological fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Both for the purpose of understanding the type itself, and in appreciating what the type ultimately signifies beyond itself, the typological fulfillment is what is required. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (cf. Gen 22:1 ff); Joseph’s saving of his own brothers and people from starvation (cf. Gen 45:4-7); Moses’ outstretched arms in the battle against the Amalekites (cf. Ex 17:11); David’s slaying of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam 17:1 ff.) all point to (and can only be fully understood in relation to) that which is greater than themselves and their actions: the universal Redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ.

Simply stated: the type is essentially secondary and subordinate in nature and significance to the person, thing, or event which it signifies beyond itself. For example, we do not say the Ark of the Covenant-divinely designed, set in gold, and possessing within itself the rod of Aaron, the fragments of the Commandments, and the Manna-holds greater prominence or significance than the Immaculate Mother of God, which the Ark of the Covenant typifies who, after her consent, held within herself Jesus, the High Priest; Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law; Jesus, the Eucharist.

Without question, there is a legitimate diversity of how the term, type, has and can be used within the theological tradition. One perfectly valid use of the term, type, refers to something that can serve as a model of imitation for another. We see this, for example, in the well-known Ambrosian patristic reference to Mary as “type of the Church” as referred to at the Council (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 63). The Immaculate Mother of God is the perfect model for the People of God to imitate as she is, at once, mysteriously, both Mother and pre-eminent member of the Church.

At the same time, if we follow the logic of biblical typology and the classic biblical-exegetical understanding of type, it seems most accurate and precise to use the term to refer to something which points to and signifies something ontologically beyond and greater than itself.

If we then apply this primary scriptural understanding of typology to the relationship between Mary and the Church, we are bound by Revelation and consistency to state the following: In its most accurate formulation, it is most appropriate to say that Mary is not, in the first sense, a type of the Church, but rather the Church is a type of Mary. Mary, in virtue of her Immaculate Conception, divine Maternity, Coredemption, Queenship, Mediation, and advocacy, possesses an intrinsic and qualitative participation in divine goodness, truth, and beauty which exceeds any member and all members of the People of God combined. Which member or groups of members of Christ s Body would position themselves as immaculate, as giving flesh to the Word, as suffering with Him on Golgotha and thus uniquely contributing to the Redemption of the entire world? As we shall see, the papal texts based on Scripture will testify that the Mother of Jesus gives both mystical birth to the Church as spiritual Mother and, at the same time, is mysteriously the Body’s greatest Member.

Hence, while we can say, as does St. Ambrose when quoted by the Council, that Mary is a type of the Church{footnote}Cf. LG 63.{/footnote} insofar as Mary becomes the perfect model of what the Church should be in the order of faith, hope, and charity, this should not be construed as placing Mary in a position of inferiority to the Church which she anticipates as its Mother-a Mother who spiritually conceives the People of God; a Mother who suffers in an unprecedented way in saving the People of God; and a Mother who distributes the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the graces of Christ’s Redemption to the People of God.{footnote}Cf. LG 58, 61, 62.{/footnote} Perhaps it is most accurate to say that Mary is a type for, and not of, the Church.

In the natural order, the infant is not put before its mother, who conceives, nurtures, and forms her offspring from the womb. The Church, the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is mystically brought forth, as St. Pius X profoundly states, “from the womb of Mary”{footnote}Pope St. Pius X, Encyclical, Ad diem ilium, 10; cf. St. AUGUSTINE, De S.Virginitate, 6, 6.{/footnote} should not be placed in superiority before its Immaculate Mother, but seen as the greatest fruit of that womb after its first divine-human fruit, the Redeemer of all and the Head of the People of God in its quintessentially mystical dimension.

Moreover, we will find in the major magisterial writings on ecclesiology of the past two centuries, that a defining element of the Church as a People of God and as a Mystical Body, is the presence of the Holy Spirit as its “soul.” This pneumatological soul also comes to the Church through the intercession of Mary its Mother, who is made Immaculate by the Spirit; is overshadowed by the Spirit at the Annunciation where the People of God are first mystically united to their Physical and divine Head; at Calvary where the New Adam and New Eve pay the price for the Spirit’s later descent; and at Pentecost, where the Spirit is brought definitively to the People of God through the intercession of his Immaculate human spouse.