Just as there is no change in the nature of the unborn child from conception to birth but only the passage of time and growth, so too with the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix from its scriptural conception and apostolic gestation through its later patristic development.
As the soteriological understanding of Redemption as the “buying back” of humanity from the bondage of Satan developed, so too in natural and peaceful progression did the understanding of the instrumental role of the stainless Mary in the process of Redemption grow. From the New Eve model, the Fathers and doctors of the Church begin to expand their preaching and teaching of the Mother’s redemptive role “with Jesus” from conception to birth, and gradually making its way to Calvary. (1)
The second half of the first millennium begins with a witness from the great Eastern Akathist hymn (c. 525) referring to the Mother of God as the “Redemption”: “Hail, Redemption of the tears of Eve.” (2)
The Latin poet and hymnist, St. Fortunatus († 600) hails the Blessed Virgin’s meritorious causality in the world’s salvation as “our only remedy,” who by giving birth to God “will wash the world from sin”:
O remarkable Virgin, our only remedy,
Whom God filled with the wealth of the world,
You merited to hold your Maker in your womb
And give birth to God, conceiving in faith.
By this new birth, you will wash the world from sin. (3)
The seventh century brings the first direct references to the Immaculate One who actually “redeems” with the Redeemer, in partaking in the true “buying back” or “ransoming” of the race of man from the slavery of Satan. Although initially at this period the references to Mary’s part in Redemption refer to her cooperation in giving birth to the Redeemer, by the end of the first millennium the doctrine develops to include her personal suffering “with Jesus” at Calvary. With the growing awareness of the Redeemer’s ransoming of humanity during this century come the juxtaposed testimonies to the Mother’s share in that ransoming.
The Greek word for redemption is “lutrosis,” which in its ancient meaning denotes a ransom or discharge of a debt. Its patristic meaning conveys an act of deliverance, release, or literally of redemption. Both ancient and patristic Greek meanings are based on the etymological root “luo” which refers to a dissolving or loosening. The “buying back” meaning of the Latin, “redimere” and the “dissolving a debt” meaning of the Greek “lutrosis” are both conveyed in complimentary fashion in these patristic references to the Mother’s share in the Redemption.
St. Modestus of Jerusalem († 634), Patriarch of Jerusalem (or Pseudo-Modestus), (4) refers to the glorious Mother of God through whom “we have been redeemed” (Gk., lelutrometha) from bondage to Satan: “O very beautiful dormition of the very glorious Mother of God through whom we have received the remission of our sins (Eph. 1: 7) and have been redeemed from the tyranny of the devil.” (5)
At the same time, Theodorus Minimus Monremita (c. seventh century) likewise exhorts: “May all creatures know the great ransom she offers to God.” (6)
St. Andrew of Crete († 740), Archbishop and renowned orator, calls Mary the “Mother of the Redeemer” (tou Lutrotou), (7) and says of her: “in you, we have been redeemed from corruption.” (8) St. Andrew adds: “All of us have obtained salvation through her.” (9)
St. Andrew’s illustrious contemporary, St. John Damascene († c. 754-787), Doctor of the Church and one of the last and greatest Greek Church Fathers, re-affirms the Holy Virgin’s role in buying back humanity. Damascene teaches that the Blessed Virgin is she, “through whom we were redeemed from the curse,” (10)and that it is Mary, “through whom the whole race of mortals is restored.” (11)
The ninth century scholar, Alcuin († 804), Abbot of Tours and inspirer of the Carolingian Renaissance, exclaims of Mary’s redemptive role: “The whole world rejoices that it has been redeemed through you.” (12)
Alcuin’s contemporary in the East, St. Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople († 806), calls the Blessed Mother the “payment” for Eve’s debt, which reflects the ever-growing understanding of the soteriological price of Redemption: “You (Mary), the payment for the debt of Eve.” (13) St. Theodore the Studite († 826), the great monastic reformer, calls Mary the “ransom of the world.” (14)
With the contribution of the Byzantine monk, John the Geometer, at the end of the tenth century, a new light of understanding shines upon the inseparability of the Mother and the Son in the accomplishment of Redemption fulfilled at Calvary. John Paul II acknowledges this historical breakthrough in the doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix found in John the Geometer’s Life of Mary, which the Holy Father confirms:
This doctrine (of Mary’s collaboration in Redemption) was systematically worked out for the first time at the end of the tenth century in the Life of Mary by the Byzantine monk, John the Geometer. Here Mary is united to Christ in the whole work of Redemption, sharing, according to God’s plan, in the Cross and suffering for our salvation. She remained united to the Son “in every deed, attitude, and wish.” (15)
John the Geometer identifies Our Lady as the “Redemption (lutrosis) of the captivity,” (16) and describes her union with Jesus in the entire work of salvation:
The Virgin, after giving birth to her Son, was never separated from him in his activity, his dispositions, his will . . . When he went away, she went with him, when he worked miracles, it was as if she worked them with him, sharing his glory and rejoicing with him. When he was betrayed, arrested, judged, when he suffered, not only was she everywhere present beside him and even realized especially then his presence, but she even suffered with him . . . Terribly sundered, she would have wished a thousand times to suffer the evils she saw her Son suffering. (17)
John expresses gratitude to Jesus for both his sufferings and for the sufferings of his Mother, which directly lead to a spiritual fruitfulness for humanity: “We give thee thanks for having suffered for us such great evils, and for having willed that your Mother should suffer such great evils, for you and for us ….” (18)
Christ gives himself as ransom for us and likewise gives his mother as ransom for humanity at every moment, according to the Geometer, so that Jesus, “should die for us once and she should die for us a thousand times in her will, her heart burning just as for you, so also for those for whom she, as the Father, has given her own Son, knowing him to be delivered from death.” (19) John moreover professes that Mary suffered for the Church “as a universal mother.” (20)
We must ponder the fact that well over one thousand years ago, the People of God testified to the spiritual fruitfulness of the Mother’s suffering “with Jesus” from the Annunciation to Calvary for our universal ransom. In this recognition of the countless sufferings of the Mother’s heart in the death of her crucified Son is also the recognition of her newly merited role as universal spiritual mother for the Church and for all mankind.
Here, in the tenth century, after nearly a millennium of peaceful gestation, the explicit doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix at Calvary is born.
The “Redemptrix” Title
In a French Psalter which dates back to the tenth century, a litany of saints invokes the petition, “Holy Redemptrix of the world, pray for us.” (21) In the beauty of relation between “doctrine” and “title,” between the truth conveyed in a doctrine and that selfsame truth being captured in a single word, this petition to the Virgin Mother of Jesus under the title of “Redemptrix” reflects the development of doctrine as testified to by John the Geometer.
The New Eve is always understood by the Fathers as the Virgin Mother who freely and actively participated with and under Jesus, the New Adam, in the restoration of grace for the human family. In the early Middle Ages, as the understanding of Redemption becomes more focused on its fulfillment in Christ crucified at Calvary, so too is the Mother’s participation at Calvary more recognized and revered. But the same principle of subordinate participation present in the New Eve model is also present in the “Redemptrix” title and doctrine—the Mother participating in a mode of complete creaturely subordination and dependency upon her divine Son the Redeemer, who alone has the power to reconcile earth to heaven.
This tenth century petition does not end with, “Holy Redemptrix of the world, have mercy on us,” which would have inferred an erroneously parallel or competitive relation to the one divine Redeemer, but rather “Holy Redemptrix of the world, pray for us.” It asks her intercession in the sense of all Christian petitions seeking the powerful intercession of human saints. Was it rash for our medieval brothers and sisters to call Mary the “Redemptrix”? (22) Properly understood, it was no more rash to call Mary the “Redemptrix” than for the Church to call Mary the “Mediatrix.”
The title of Redemptrix conveys the general doctrine of Marian Coredemption, the understanding of which grows as her role at Calvary is better understood.
“Redemptrix,” like the later “Co-redemptrix,” is used in the context of complete and total subordination to Christ Jesus, divine Redeemer and Lord of all. No more than the title “New Eve” threatens the primacy of the “New Adam” in the teachings of the Fathers, does “Redemptrix” threaten the primacy of Christ the “Redemptor” among the Medievals. Just as we invoke the Mother of Jesus as “Mediatrix” (Lumen Gentium, 62), and not “co-Mediatrix,” with the proper understanding of her complete subordination as creature to Jesus the “one Mediator” (1 Tim.2:5), (23) so in the same way it is perfectly legitimate and theologically orthodox to call Mary the “Redemptrix” within the same ecclesial understanding of total subordination to the Redeemer.
Both in doctrine and in title, Marian Coredemption greatly advances during the tenth through fourteenth centuries, a period which prepares the way for the further Mariological development of Mary “Co-redemptrix.” References to the Mother as “Redemptrix” which honor Our Lady’s giving birth to the Redeemer continue alongside a more explicit testimony to her suffering “with Jesus” at Calvary.
The “Virgin Mother of God gives birth as our Redemptrix” writes an anonymous eleventh century author. (24) The great St. Peter Damian († 1072), Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, calls the Church to give thanks to the Mother of God, after God himself, for our Redemption: ” . . . we are debtors to the most blessed Mother of God, and . . . after God we should thank her for our redemption.” (25)
St. Anselm († 1109), perhaps the greatest early scholastic theologian and philosopher, speaks of the Redemption as a unified victory of Mother with Son: “What I say worthily I will refer to the Mother of God and of my Lord through whose fecundity I, a slave, have been redeemed, through whose birth I am exempt from eternal death.” (26) St. Anselm further declares: “Thou art the salvation of sinners, O Son, and thou, O Mother,” (27) and also: “Through thee we have access to the Son Who redeemed the world through thee.” (28)
Eadmer of Canterbury († 1124), companion to St. Anselm, is one of the first to speak of Our Lady’s “merit” in connection with the Redemption, and invokes Blessed Mary as the “Reparatrix.” The Reparatrix term is basically an equivalent term to Redemptrix, but with an emphasis upon the restoring or repairing of the relationship between God and man. Reparatrix will be used in reference to the Mother by Pope St. Pius X some eight hundred years later. (29) Eadmer teaches that Mary “merited to become in a most worthy manner the Reparatrix of the lost world” (30); and that, “Just as God in making everything by His power is the Father and Lord of all things, so the Blessed Mary in repairing everything by her merits is the Mother and Lady of all things.” (31)
St. Bernard and Arnold of Chartres: “Co-suffering” and “Co-crucified”
A monumental contribution to the story of Mary Co-redemptrix comes with the insights of the great St. Bernard of Clairvaux († 1153), arguably the most significant figure of the twelfth century, and his disciple, Arnold of Chartres († 1160).
St. Bernard, who has sometimes been called “the last of the Church Fathers,” is the first to teach of Mary’s “offering” of Jesus as the divine victim to the Heavenly Father for the reconciliation of the world. St. Bernard’s teachings are in the context of Mary’s offering of Jesus at the Presentation of the Temple (and not yet at Calvary): “O hallowed Virgin, offer thy Son; and present anew to the Lord this Fruit of thy womb. Offer for our reconciliation this Victim, holy and pleasing to God. With joy, God the Father will receive this oblation, this Victim of infinite value.” (32)
The Abbot of Clairvaux is also the first to refer to the “compassion” (33) of Our Lady, a term which etymologically comes from the Latin “cum” (with) and “passio” (suffering or receiving), and therefore refers to her “co-suffering” or “suffering with” Jesus. According to Bernard, the Virgin Mother welcomes the “price of Redemption” (34); stands at “Redemption’s starting point” (35); and “liberates prisoners of war from their captivity.” (36)
In addition, St. Bernard is the first theologian and Doctor of the Church to preach that Mary provided “satisfaction” for the disgrace and ruin brought about by Eve: “Run, Eve, to Mary; run, mother to daughter. The daughter answers for the mother; she takes away the opprobrium of the mother; she makes satisfaction to Thee, Father, for the mother . . . O woman singularly to be venerated . . . Reparatrix of parents.” (37)
The pivotal Mariologist, Arnold of Chartres, St. Bernard’s renowned disciple, can rightly be considered the first author who formally expounds the explicit doctrine of Mary Co-redemptrix at Calvary. While two centuries earlier, John the Geometer had referred to the suffering of Mary with the crucified Jesus, Arnold specifies that it is Jesus and Mary who together accomplish the Redemption through their mutual offering of the one and the same sacrifice to the Father. The French abbot tells us: “Together they (Christ and Mary) accomplished the task of man’s redemption . . . both offered up one and the same sacrifice to God: she in the blood of her heart, He in the blood of the flesh . . . so that, together with Christ, she obtained a common effect in the salvation of the world.” (38)
In a theological and terminological breakthrough, Arnold states that Mary is “co-crucified” with her Son (39) at Calvary, and that the Mother “co-dies” with him. (40) In response to objections first raised by Ambrose that Mary did not suffer the passion, was not crucified like Christ, and did not die as Christ died at Calvary, Arnold responds that Mary experienced “com-passion” or “co-suffering” (using the term of his master, Bernard) with the passion of Christ: “what they did in the flesh of Christ with nail and lance, this is a co-suffering in her soul.” (41) Further, Arnold explains that Mary is in fact “co-crucified” in her heart with Jesus crucified, (42) and that the Mother “co-dies” with the death of her son. Mary “co-died with the pain of a parent.” (43)
Arnold concludes that the Mother of the Redeemer does not “operate” Redemption at Calvary, but rather “co-operates” in Redemption, and to the highest degree. (44) It is the love of the Mother that co-operates in a unique way at Calvary, in a way most favorable to God: “(On Calvary) the Mother’s love co-operated exceedingly, in its own way, to render God propitious to us.” (45)
How truly extraordinary was the contribution of Bernard and Arnold. The Mother’s role in Redemption is affirmed by Bernard in the terms, offering, satisfying, and compassion. Her role at Calvary is proclaimed by Arnold in the terms co-crucified, co-dying, co-operating. These testimonies can be likened, in their theological insight and maturity, to contemporary testimonies to Mary Co-redemptrix by popes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The doctrine and title development of the Co-redemptrix story, exemplified in an extraordinary way during this late patristic and early medieval period, will soon bear even greater fruit in bringing forth the singular title which most clearly expresses the Mother’s unique collaboration with and under Jesus in the Redemption.
The above article by Dr. Mark Miravalle from the sixth chapter of “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, Queenship Publications, 2003.
(1) For a more extensive treatment of the medieval and modern history of the title of Mary Co-redemptrix and Marian Coredemption, cf. J. B. Carol, De Corredemptione Beatae Mariae Virginis, Rome, Vaticana, 1950; R. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, Etude Historique, Paris, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1951; G. Roschini, Maria Santissima Nella Storia Della Salvezza, vol. 2, pp. 171-232; L. Riley, “Historical Conspectus of the Doctrine of Mary’s Co-redemption,” Marian Studies, vol. 2, 1951. Numerous citations contained in this work were located in these extended treatments. Note: The references found in the Laurentin article illustrate the author’s exceptional historical scholarship, but much of the commentary on the development of Marian Coredemption in regards to the usages of “Redemptrix” and “Co-redemptrix” does not appear substantiated by his own excellent sources (cf. note 22 from this chapter, and Chapter IX, note 2).
(2) Akathist Hymn, Strophe 1; PG 92, 1337 A.
(3) St. Fortunatus, In laudem S. Mariae Virginis et Matris Domini, verse 119-125; PL 88, 284.
(4) For controversy over authenticity of authorship, cf. M. Jugie, “Deux homélies patristiques pseudépigraphes. Saint Athanase sur l’Annonciation et saint Modeste de Jérusalem sur la Dormition,” Echos d’Orient, 30, 1941-2, pp. 283-289, and Dom. B. Capelle, “Témoignage de la liturgie . . . ,” Bulletin de la société française d’études mariales, 7, 1949, pp. 40-41, n. 16.
(5) Enconium in B. Virginem, VII; PG 86, 3293 B.
(6) Theodorus Minimus Monremita, s. in annunciatione, t. 8, in A. Ballerini, Sylloge, Paris, Lecoffre, 1857, t. 2, p. 229.
(7) St. Andrew of Crete, Canon in Nativ., ode 4; PG 97, 1322 B.
(8) Ibid., ode 5; PG 97, 1322 C.
(9) St. Andrew of Crete, Canon in B. Annae conceptionem; PG 97, 1307.
(10) St. John Damascene, Homilia in Annuntiationem B. V. Mariae; PG 96, 657. Laurentin attributes this reference to “Pseudo-John Damascene,” cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, p. 59.
(11) St. John Damascene, Homilia I in Nativitatem B. V. Mariae; PG 96, 661.
(12) Alcuin, s. de Nativ.; PL 101, 1300 D.
(13) St. Tarasius, Sermo in Praes., IX; PG 98, 1492 A.
(14) St. Theodore the Studite, Triodium Dominicae abstinentiae, ode y, cited in A. Ballerini, Sylloge, Paris, Lecoffre, 1857, t. 2, p. 229, note c.
(15) John Paul II, General Audience, Oct. 25, 1995, n. 2; L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, Nov. 1, 1995, p. 11.
(16) John the Geometer, S. on the Annunciation; PG 106, 846 A.
(17) John the Geometer, Life of Mary as found in A. Wenger, A.A., “L’Assomption,” Études Mariales, BSFEM, 23, 1966, 66, as quoted in English by M. Carroll, C.S.Sp., Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael Glazier, 1982, p. 204.
(18) Ibid., Wenger, “L’Assomption,” p. 406.
(21) Litanies des saintes, in a Psalter of French origin preserved in the chapter library of the Cathedral of Salisbury, Parchment 173, fol. in double columns, 0.39×0.32 m. Manuscript number l80, fol. 171 v., b, Edited by F.E. Warren, “An Unedited Monument of Celtic Liturgy” in Celtic Review, 9, 1888, pp. 88-96.
(22) Cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, p. 12. Fr. Laurentin refers to Redemptrix as a “rash title,” and calls shortened versions of “Mary is Redemption” and “she redeems; she is redemptrix” as “disconcerting” (p. 13). Laurentin does defend the legitimacy of “Redemptrix” as denoting an “equivocal affirmation” of more ancient expressions of “Mary redeems” (“from Maria redemit to Maria Redemptrix, the nuance is without importance,” p. 12), and that these terms convey an all together different meaning by the Fathers for Mary than that which is unique for Christ the Redeemer in paying the price for sin. But he nonetheless fails to validate the participatory dimension of Mary in the very act of Redemption beyond the Incarnation, as contained in these later references to Mary’s role in Redemption, which are but a natural development of those ancient expressions of “New Eve” and the principle of Recapitulation in which the New Eve does share instrumentally though subordinately in the saving process with the New Adam in salvation, and in the necessary reversal of Eve’s participation with Adam in sin. To accept the patristic model of New Eve with its obvious instrumental causality in salvation, and then to exclude any true sharing on the part of Mary in the later soteriology of Redemption as spoken of in the tenth through fourteenth centuries is to negate the latter as a true and solid development of the former.
Redemption is in fact to pay the price for someone’s liberation, and this price is paid in source by Jesus Christ, New Adam, “Redemptor,” and by participation by the Mother of Jesus, New Eve, “Redemptrix” (and later, Co-redemptrix). This is God’s deliberate plan of salvation, so foundational to the entire Recapitulation theory of saving the human race by using the very same means through which it was lost—the free act of a man and a woman—and thus manifesting God’s omnipotence and glory.
It is only when we a priori reject any legitimate human participation in the Redemption accomplished by Christ, a position which runs contrary to contemporary magisterial references to true Marian participation in Redemption as found, for example, in Lumen Gentium, 57, 58, 61, or Salvifici Doloris, 25, which says “Mary’s sufferings at Calvary were a “contribution to the Redemption of all,” that one is then forced to conclude that these “Mary-redemption” references run the danger of becoming a parallel or rival to the Redemption achieved by Christ. They constitute no such threat, and the context of their usage during the pre-scholastic, scholastic, and post-scholastic periods (as they did in more concise forms in the patristic age), manifest a true sharing by Mary in the Redemption wrought by Christ.
(23) Cf. Lumen Gentium, 60, 62.
(24) Inscription with an illustration on the nativity, Ms. 123 of the Bibliotheca Angelica, Rome, fol. 29v.
(25) St. Peter Damian, Sermo 45 in Nativitate Beatissimae Virginis Mariae; PL 144, 743.
(26) St. Anselm of Canterbury, Oratio 52; PL 158, 953, C-954 A.
(27) St. Anselm, Oratio 51; PL 158, 951.
(28) St. Anselm, Oratio 54; PL 158, 961. Some authors consider this a quote from “Pseudo-Anselm,” cf. A. Wilmart, Revue benedictine, 36, 1924, pp. 52-71.
(29) Pius X, Encyclical Ad Diem Illum, February 2, 1904, 12.
(30) Eadmer of Canterbury, Liber de Excellentia Virginis Mariae, c. 9; PL 159, 573.
(31) Ibid., c. 11; PL 159, 578.
(32) St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 3 de Purificatione Beatae Mariae; PL 183, 370.
(33) St. Bernard; PL 183, 438 A.
(34) St. Bernard, Homil. 4 sup. Missus est; PL 183, 83 C.
(35) St. Bernard, Sermon des 12 étoiles; PL 183, 430 C.
(36) Ibid.; PL 183, 430 D; Homil. 4 sup. Missus est; cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, p. 14 ff.