Is Mary Co-redemptrix A “False Exaggeration”?

Is Mary Co-redemptrix A “False Exaggeration”?

Mark Miravalle* and Robert Fastiggi**

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In its treatment on proper devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Second Vatican Council warns the People of God against two potential extremes. After the Council Fathers encourage a “generous fostering” of authentic devotion to the Blessed Virgin based on solid doctrine, and call for Marian devotional practices recommended by the teaching authority of the Church over centuries to be “highly esteemed,” (1) they then issue the following admonition: “But [the Council] strongly urges theologians and preachers of the Word of God to be careful to refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God.” (2) Here identified are the two immoderations of devotion to Mary, that is, Marian excess and Marian defect.

What, then, constitutes either “false exaggeration” or “too summary an attitude” regarding Mary? The Council repeatedly commends Marian devotions “within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine,” (3) as well those formed by the study of “Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church and under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.” (4)

Therefore, according to the Second Vatican Council, if a Marian devotion has its doctrinal basis in Scripture, a longstanding presence in the Church’s Tradition, and then taught by the papal Magisterium, then surely it would constitute an authentic form of Marian devotion.

Why, then, do some in the Church today consider the Marian title of human “Co-redemptrix” with Jesus, the only divine Redeemer, to constitute “false exaggeration”? The doctrine of Marian coredemption, which refers to Mary’s subordinate role though unique human role with Jesus in the historic work of Redemption, is deeply rooted in Scripture, the Fathers, the Liturgy, and Church doctors, and explicitly and consistently taught by the papal Magisterium for the last two centuries (5) ; and the Co-redemptrix title, which in a single term denotes Mary’s unique human role in the Redemption, has enjoyed an unbroken presence within the Church’s devotional and mystical Tradition since the 14th century (6).

Mary’s free and active consent at the Annunciation brought Jesus, the divine Redeemer into the world, to whom she gave his body, the instrument of Redemption (cf. Lk. 1:38, Lk. 2:1-20, Heb. 10:10).). Simeon prophesies Mary’s co-suffering with Jesus at Calvary (cf. Lk. 2:35). At Calvary, Mary shares in the suffering of her Redeemer Son, and consents to the offering of him as the victim-ransom of Redemption (cf. Jn. 19:26-27). The Council profoundly articulates our Lady’s heroic coredemption with Jesus at Calvary:

Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. (7)

From the second century, St. Irenaeus expounds Mary’s subordinate role with Jesus as the “New Eve” with the New Adam, and professes her as “the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.” (8) In the 5th and 6th centuries, eastern liturgies refer to her subordinate role in the Redemption, with the great Akathist hymn invoking her, “Hail, Redemption of the tears of Eve.” (9) By the 10th century, John the Geometer articulates Mary’s co-suffering with Jesus throughout her life and culminating at Calvary (10); and the term “Redemptrix” for Mary appears in liturgical hymns (11). In the twelfth century, Mary’s cumpassio ( suffering with”) was taught by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (12), and his disciple, Arnold of Chartres refers to the Mother at Calvary being spiritually “co-crucified” with her Son, and that she spiritually “co-dies” with Jesus in her heart (13). In the 15th century, the title, “Co-redemptrix” (14) appears, and by the 16th century, the prominent Tridentine theologian, Jesuit Alphonsus Salmeron defends the theological legitimacy of the Co-redemptrix title (15). The 17th century Golden Age of Marian coredemption would see over 300 theological references to the role and title, wit