Is Mary Being Sacrificed on the Altar of Ecumenism?

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Is Mary Being Sacrificed on the Altar of Ecumenism?

Dr. Mark Miravalle*


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Today’s ubiquitous global crises underscore the imperative for all Christians to unite to the greatest degree possible. The Catholic Church must likewise take seriously the call for authentic Christian unity. Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on Ecumenism throughout his pontificate, both in word and action. But how can the Church best accomplish real ecumenical progress and advance true Christian unity during these troubled times?



Ecumenical efforts since the Second Vatican Council have generally led to fruitful forms of common prayer and fraternal dialogue between the different Christian traditions, principally by emphasizing what all Christian confessions have in common. But is that enough? Can we really fulfill the ecumenical prayer of Jesus that “that they may all be one” (Jn. 17:19) by discussing only what all Christians have in common?


Many Catholics involved in the ecumenical mission of the Church have humbly come to the conclusion that, to a significant degree, the ecumenical movement has come to an impasse. While communal Christian prayer and dialogue are certainly beneficial, they alone will not bring the diversified Christian confessions into the one Body of Christ.



What then is required? For ultimate ecumenical unity to take place, the fullness of Catholic doctrine and life must be discussed honestly, in full transparency, and without any reduction or compromise.



However dogmatic or “un-ecumenical” this may sound at first, the fullness of Christian revelation is nevertheless the only foundation and pre-requisite for real, true, and lasting Christian unity. Unity flows from truth, communion from doctrine. St. John Paul II’s ecumenical instruction makes this indisputably clear:



The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth?(1)

Free Human Cooperation in Redemption


At the bottom of the entire ecumenical discussion lies this central issue: the legitimacy and necessity of free human cooperation in Redemption. This essential Catholic truth appears to be losing its critical dogmatic status, or even in some cases denied, within contemporary ecumenical discussions.


Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century’s leading Protestant theologians, saw the centrality of this issue and its singular Marian component. Barth identified Marian doctrine and devotion to be the “one great heresy” of the Catholic Church from which all other Catholic heresies followed: “In the doctrine and worship of Mary there is disclosed the one heresy of the Roman Catholic Church which explains all the rest.”(2) He specifically singles out Mary’s human cooperation in Redemption as a preeminent example of this alleged Catholic-Marian heresy:


“The ‘mother of God’ of Roman Catholic Marian dogma is quite simply the principle, type and essence of the human creature co-operating servant-like in its own redemption on the basis of prevenient grace, and to that extent the principle, type and essence of the Church.”(3)

Barth went on to conclude about Marian doctrine: “Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excrescences must be excised.”(4)


Notice that Barth specifically referred to the concept of a “human creature co-operating” in “redemption” in his condemnation of the Catholic doctrine of Marian coredemption.


That a major Protestant theologian rejected the full Catholic teaching on Mary and her human cooperation in Redemption based upon his “solus Christus” “sola fide,” and “sola scriptura” Reformation premises should surprise no one. But when contemporary Catholic theological discussion presents similar rejections regarding Mary’s coredemption with and under Christ, then we must admit to a serious omission of Catholic faith. This omission of faith extends far beyond the domain of Mariology. In principle, it threatens the very essence of core Catholic soteriological truths concerning the nature of faith, grace, and redemption. It calls into question the Christian imperative for free human cooperation in our own redemption and the redemption of others.


When statements are made by members of the Church which reflect Barth’s misconceptions, such as “Jesus alone can be involved in Redemption,” and “no human can cooperate in Redemption,” then foundational Catholic teaching, as well as its singular embodiment manifested in Mary’s unique cooperation in Redemption is denied. This constitutes, however unintended, a rejection of a critical dogmatic component of Catholic Tradition, truth, and the depositum fidei: that a) free and active human cooperation with grace is necessary to receive the fruits of Redemption; and b) all Christians are called to participate in Christ’s universal mission of human Redemption for ourselves and others.


How then does the Church positively articulate the providential necessity of free human cooperation within the divine act of Redemption?


Freedom, Creation, Redemption



The greatest gift given to us by our Creator, inextricably joined to human life, is human freedom. Human freedom, an essential quality of being created in God’s image and likeness, enables us to choose and to love. God is free, and God made man free.


If freedom is such an indispensable component of being human, should we be surprised that the exercise of human freedom is such a critical dimension in human redemption?



God the Father freely chooses to send his Son to become flesh for our redemption. Jesus freely chooses to be obedient to the Father’s plan for human redemption by dying for us at Calvary. We, in turn, must freely choose to accept the graces of redemption merited by Christ for our personal salvation. It is a providential design of personal freedom, both divine and human, which makes our human redemption possible.


Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man who redeems the human race as only a divine Redeemer could. Jesus pays the infinite price of his own precious blood for human sin, in offering to the heavenly Father the sacrifice of himself at Calvary as an infinite price for the humanity’s offenses against an infinite God. Only a divine being could make such reparation for the totality of all human sin. Jesus alone, divinely and humanly, redeems the world in the order of justice—end of discussion, for any orthodox Christian, of the absolute necessity of a divine Redeemer for human redemption.


Next question: Can human creatures share in the mission of human redemption accomplished the only divine Redeemer?


“God created us without us, but he did not will to save us without us.”(5) St. Augustine clearly articulates the necessity of human freedom for human redemption.(6) The free and personal acceptance by every human person of the redeeming graces of Jesus obtained by his historic and objective redemption at Calvary constitutes an essential, perennial, and non-negotiable dogmatic Catholic teaching.(7)


We see further the Catholic imperative not only to freely cooperate with Jesus in our own redemption, but also to participate dynamically in the redemption of other human beings. This constitutes the universal Christian mandate of the Redeemer to go, preach to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity (cf. Mt. 28:19); to pray and make intercession for one another (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1); to offer our sufferings and sacrifices for the good of the Church and its increase (cf. Col. 1:24); and to be “co-workers with God” in the crucial mission of human redemption (cf. 1 Cor.3:9).


To Cooperate is to Co-redeem


The call to participate in the Redemption of others, to “co-redeem” to use a single term, never fails to recognize the absolute theological, metaphysical, and existential necessity of Jesus Christ as our sole divine Redeemer.


Nor does it, on the other hand, make the likewise necessary human cooperation in Redemption trivial or merely symbolic. How can both of these necessary realities exist at the same time without violating the integrity or freedom of either?