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Mary’s Cooperation in General in the Work of Redemption

Updated: May 29, 2020

The Course of the Redemption and that of the Fall

It is a well-established fact that, because of her cooperation in the redemption, Mary became truly the contributory cause of the effects of the redemption. This fact, as to its form and reason, has been explained by the remark that, according to God’s plan, the course of our redemption should answer to that of the Fall. On the part of God, the redemption must be considered a work of emulation in opposition to the causing of the Fall on the part of the devil.

The fall of the human race was effected by the devil with the help of a man and a woman. The woman as well as the man, although each in a different way, can and must be regarded as the cause of the Fall. Hence the redemption had to be effected not by the new Adam alone, but with the cooperation of a new Eve, and thus a woman must become a cause of the redemption, since a woman had been a cause of the Fall. As in the cause of the Fall a woman had the initiative, so in the redemption a woman must prepare the way by her activity.

The relation between the economy of the redemption and the origin of the Fall holds the secret. Both sexes having had their share in causing the Fall, both must likewise have their share in bringing about the restoration. Both sexes are united in disgrace and in glory. The devil conquered both in the beginning and, therefore, his defeat was the more complete in the end. And God was given back that honor which had been withheld from Him in the Fall, when a man and a woman cooperated in the service of the enemy to the disfigurement of the divine likeness.

The same relation explains how both factors in this economy could and had to cooperate, so that the whole work might be ascribed to each, while a perfect dependence and subordination of one to the other was maintained. According to St. Paul, since Adam was the head of the race, from his sin alone resulted the guilt of the race. His sin alone, without that of Eve, put the burden of sin on the race. Apart from its relation to Adam’s the sin of Eve in itself had no influence on the sinfulness of the race. It wielded an influence only in that it the means by which Adam was led to sin and on which, therefore, the realization of Adam’s sin depended.

Since in this way Eve knowingly and willingly gave occasion to Adam’s sin, even though she may not have had all consequent results of her action directly in mind, she was, nevertheless, the true and real cause of these results; as in general a person by advice or command is the cause of the consequences ensuing from the actions of another. Adam’s independent responsibility as cause was mitigated so little thereby, that Eve’s culpability rather fades before that of Adam. As a matter of fact, the independent and sufficient causality of Adam permits us to regard Eve’s sin, not only as a preparation for, but also as a complement to that of Adam in its universal meaning and influence. This viewpoint is not usually brought out, though it is of great importance. Indeed, the sin of our ancestress Eve is a complement to that of our ancestor Adam, since it completes his, so as to form a combined sin of our ancestors. It thereby gives to both ancestors, and so to the whole principle of natural propagation, a form which fits in with the propagation of the ancestor’s sin. For, while the sin of the ancestor could have been propagated according to its nature, if Eve had not sinned, still such a propagation, through an ancestress who remained in the state of the original justice, would have been incongruous and unnatural. Consequently, apart from its influence on Adam’s sin, that of Eve had this significance also, that Eye thereby made herself an instrument for the propagation of Adam’s sin, and made her children subject to the influence of that ancestor’s sin.

It is announced in the protevangelium (1), that the woman with her seed, consequently with her Son, would participate in the victory over the devil, that is, in the liberation of mankind from the dominion of the devil, because the first woman had a share in the victory of the devil over mankind. Otherwise the indication of the woman, in the enmity announced to the devil, would be void of meaning. The fulfillment of this divine ordinance is evidenced by the facts. As this apostle witnesses the fulfillment of the one part with the words: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death … so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life” (2); so likewise, from of old, in contrast with the text: “From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die” (3), the parallel was rightly drawn: “From the woman came the beginning of justice, and by her we all live.”

The parallel between the pair that saved and the pair that ruined is developed by the most ancient Fathers, and very frequently since their time. St. Justin says: “the Son of God became man that He might undo the disobedience, coming from the serpent, in the same way as it began. For Eve, still a virgin and undefiled, accepted the word of the devil and brought forth death and disobedience; but the Virgin Mary, filled with faith and joy, answered the Archangel Gabriel’s glad tidings: Be it done unto me according to thy word” (4). Tertullian says: “By a rival operation God recovered His image and likeness, seized by the devil. For a word causing death had stolen into Eve, until then a virgin. In like manner, the Word of God, imparting life, was to be introduced into a virgin; so that what by this sex had gone to perdition, He might, by the same sex, bring back to salvation. Eve had believed the serpent, Mary believed Gabriel. The wrong done by the credulity of the former was obliterated by the faith of the latter” (5).

Irenaeus says: “That which is bound together is loosened in no other way than by unwinding the same cords in reverse, so that the first cords are loosened by the second, the second in turn loosen the first. So it happens that the first bond is loosened by the second, in fact the second takes the place of the loosing of the first. And, therefore, the Lord said, that the first should indeed be last and the last first. …

The Lord is the firstborn from the dead, and receiving our first parents in His bosom He regenerated them to the life of God. He is made the beginning of the living, as Adam is the beginning of the dead. … And so the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound up by her incredulity, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.” And again Irenaeus says: “As Eve is seduced by the words of a fallen angel to flee from God when she was untrue to His word; so to Mary are brought the glad tidings, so that she might bear God by being obedient to His word. If Eve had disobeyed God, Mary was persuaded to obey Him, so that the Virgin Mary should become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And, therefore, as the human race is made subject to death by a virgin, so is it saved by a virgin. The scale is put at an equal balance, that is, virginal disobedience is offset by virginal obedience” (6).

St. Augustine cites this last quotation (7). He himself formulates the parallel as follows: “It is a great sacrament that, as death came to us by a woman, life was born to us by a woman; so that in both sexes feminine and masculine, the devil, being conquered, might be tormented, as he had gloried in the downfall of both. He would not have been adequately punished, had both sexes been freed, but we had not been freed by both” (8).

On another occasion, he connected the fact, that it was women who announced the redemption as accomplished in Christ’s resurrection, with the other facts of the woman’s role both in the Fall and in the redemption. He says: “Because man fell through the female sex, he is restored by the same sex. Because a virgin brought forth Christ, a woman announced His resurrection. By a woman came death, by a woman, life” (9). And again: “A woman handed the poison to the man who was to be deceived.

A woman hands salvation to the man to be restored. A woman, by bringing forth Christ compensates for the sin of the man deceived by a woman. Hence, also women were the first to announce to the apostles that Christ had risen” (10).

Usually, the doctrine of St. Augustine is proved by several quotations which, doubtless indeed, almost literally give his meaning, but which, under the form in question, are not at all, or only questionably, his. To these belong the quotations from the sermons, or books 3 and 4, the Symb. ad catech., which for weak reasons, as it seems to us, were considered unauthentic (11) by the Maurists, but which, in any case, are not of a much later date. Also, the text from book 3, chapter 4: “To the same degree in which human nature had suffered loss, it is restored by our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.; from book 4, chapter 1, the lesson from the second nocturn on the feast of Pentecost, when Eve’s counterpart is applied to the Church (12). The text from the second nocturn on the feast of the Nativity of Mary, “Eve the cause of sin, Mary the cause of merit,” appears in many sermons which have circulated under the name of Augustine; so, e.g., in Sermo de Assumptione, and in Sermon 18, resp. 21. De nativitate Christi; thus, from an early date on this text seems to hay been held as classical (13).

St. Jerome says: “After the Virgin had conceived in her womb and brought forth the child … the malediction was lifted. Death by Eve, life by Mary” (14). We find similar utterances in many other Fathers, especially in St. Ambrose.

Other Reasons for Mary’s Cooperation in the Redemption

Although the parallel between the process of the Fall and that of the redemption indicates clearly the form and reason of Mary’s cooperation in the latter, it does not elucidate both in a sufficient manner. To carry the analogy through one-sidedly would lead not only to a faulty, but to a partially erroneous, idea of the economy in the redemption.

Apart from the woman’s participation in the sin, all other reasons in general, calling for the realization of the incarnation by a human mother, belong to the design giving Mary’s cooperation its proper place in the plan of the redemption. Especially the following reasons: 1.) In the redemption, since it is the work of the triune God, both the persons who proceed from the Father, not only the Son but also the Holy Spirit, must be represented by a special created agent. 2.) Not only to a created nature, but also to a created person God wished to give the honor of cooperating in His sublime work, in order thus to make the abundance of His grace richer and more harmonious. 3.) A human being, one to be redeemed, and hence participating passively in the redemption, was to take an active part in the execution of the redemption, in the name of the rest of mankind.

By preparation of and participation in the redeeming sacrifice, this person was perfectly to achieve the appropriation of the redeeming act and its effects upon mankind in general. 4.) Finally, by the participation of a female specifically destined to be associated with Christ to the ends mentioned, and who, as the maternal bride of Christ, became in her cooperation with Him the spiritual mother of the remaining members of the redeemed, these latter will have greater confidence of receiving the fruits of redemption, and thus will strive for them more courageously.

All these reasons obviously demand Mary’s cooperation not in order to achieve or complete the intrinsic power of the redeeming work, but only to perfect its beauty and loveliness in all respects, especially its organic connection with mankind to be redeemed, whereby the perfect completion of its application and applicability was conditioned.

St. Bernard explains the latter point thus: “One man and one woman harmed us grievously. Thanks to God, all things are restored by one man and one woman, and that with interest. It is true that Christ would have been adequate, since all our sufficiency is from Him, but it was not good for us that it should be a man alone. It was more appropriate that both sexes should take part in our reparation, since both had wrought our ruin. Jesus Christ as man obviously is the trustworthy and able mediator between God and man, but mankind honors in Him His divine majesty. Not only His mercy but also His judgment is sung. There is thus need of a mediator with that mediator, and none could be more fitting than Mary. Why should human frailty hesitate to approach Mary? There is nothing severe, nothing terrible about her; she is all sweet and offers to all milk and wool” (15).

From the positive and supernatural character of the work of redemption in contrast to the work of the Fall, there follow important differences as to the manner of cooperation on die part of the woman. 1.) Eve’s cooperation was only material and indirect, because the fall of the race was not formally meant thereby, but only foreseen. In the strictest sense of the word, Mary’s cooperation was formal, because it was supported entirely by the loving purpose of achieving the redemption of mankind. 2.) Eve cooperated in the Fall by her purely natural power. Mary cooperated by virtue of a supernatural elevation and ordination, in so far as she, as chosen instrument of the Holy Spirit, was associated with the incarnate Logos, and by a power which, in turn, came to her from the merits of the Redeemer. 3.) Lastly, only the existence of Adam’s calamitous deed depended on Eve’s cooperation, whereas Mary’s cooperation conditioned the existence of the substantial principle, or of the instrument for the redeeming activity.

The preceding excerpt was taken from Mariology, Vol. 2, by Matthias Joseph Scheeben (†1888), published by B. Herder Book Co. 1947. Scheeben is considered one of the greatest German theologians ever according to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.


(1) Gen 3:15. See Vol. I, appendix 1.

(2) Rom 5:12, 18.

(3) Sir 25:33.

(4) St. Justin, Dial. cum Tryph., chap. 100; PG, VI, 709-712.

(5) Tertulian, De came Christi, chap. 17; PL, II, 782.

(6) St. Irenaeus, Adv. haereses, III, 22; V, 19; PG, VII, 959, 1175. A footnote in PG reads: Obscurior iota haec Irenaei argumentatio est. See M.A. Genervois, “La maternite spirituelle de Marie selon S. Irénée,” in Revue Thomiste, XIX (1936), 26-51.

(7) St. Augustine. Contr. Julian, Vol. I, chap. 3; PL, XLIV, 644.

(8) Ibid. De agone christ., chap. 22; PL, XL, 303.

(9) Ibid. Sermo 232 de fest. pasch., no. 2; PL, XXXVIII, 1108.

(10) Ibid. Sermo 51 de concord. Matth. et Luc., no. 2; PL, XXXVIII, 335.

(11) Dom G. Morin, “Les leçons apocr. du Brév. Rom.” (Rev. ben., VIII (1891), 273 f.), says that there is sufficient reason not to ascribe Books 2-4 to St. Augustine, because the African form of Symbolum is no longer explained therein.

(12) PL, XL, 655, 659-661.

(13) The lesson in the breviary on the feast of Mary’s Nativity is literally serm. 194 in App. S. Augustini, nos. 1 and 2; PL, XXXIX, 2104, and according to G. Morin, op. cit., p. 278, the lesson is from Ambrosius Autpertus, just as Sermo Append. 208 de assumpt., where in no. 4 (PL, XXXIX, 2130) the same ideas are found. Sermo App. 120 de nativ. Dom. appears in PL, XXXIX, 1985.

(14) St. Jerome, epist. 22 ad Eustoch., PL, XXII, 408.

(15) St. Bernard, Sermo de 12 praerog., no. 1; PL, CLXXXII, 429

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