“Holy Redemptrix, Pray for Us”

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 p