Our Lady’s Coredemption

We here present a classic defense of Our Lady’s role as the Co-redemptrix as articulated by the late Fr. Juniper B. Carol, renowned mariologist and founder of the Mariological Society of America. Even though the article is written before the Second Vatican Council, and the pontificate of John Paul II and his extraordinary contribution to Marian Coredemption, Fr. Carol’s treatise still represents the unquestionable presence of Marian Coredemption in Scripture, Tradition and the Papal Magisterium. – Ed.

Those who are fairly abreast of current Catholic thought scarcely need to be apprised of the importance attached to the problem of Our Lady’s Coredemption in contemporary theological literature. They are aware of the fact that during the past twenty-five years particularly, few questions in the vast field of the sacred sciences have engaged the attention of theologians more frequently and absorbingly than the one we are about to discuss. Even the Protestant theologian Giovanni Miegge recognizes this truth when he maintains that Mary’s Coredemption is the central and fundamental issue in twentieth-century Mariology. (1)

Indeed, considering “the pressure of public opinion,” it is easy to foresee that this Marian prerogative will soon be solemnly defined by the Roman Pontiff. (2) If we believe Pierre Maury, another Protestant writer, the Coredemption is not only one of the primary principles of Mariology; (3) in the mind of the Popes and Catholic theologians, it is the very synthesis of the Marian tract. (4)

Despite their exaggerated appraisal, it is obvious that these non-Catholic authors reflect the current doctrinal preoccupations of their Catholic brethren. Be that as it may, it remains true that many dogmatic questions will not be satisfactorily solved nor properly understood until they are solved and understood through a well-focused prism of the fundamental doctrine relative to Our Lady’s position in the economy of salvation.

Perhaps it is well to remark at the outset that, in writing this article we make no pretense of either originality or thoroughness. Both are impossible under the circumstances. Our aim is simply to acquaint English-speaking readers with the result of the many years of study which modern Mariologists have devoted to this complex yet enthralling doctrine. Considering the vastness of the field, our presentation will be, of necessity, somewhat sketchy and superficial. (5) It will follow the usual pattern adopted in similar dissertations, namely:

preliminary notions and state of the question; the argument from the Magisterium (Section I); the teaching of Sacred Scripture (Section II); the data of Tradition (Section III); the nature and modalities of the Coredemption (Section IV); difficulties and solutions (Section V).

Preliminary Notions and State of the Question

Since the word “Coredemptrix,” by its very definition, designates Our Lady’s share in the work of man’s supernatural rehabilitation as brought about by Christ, it is obvious that in order to have an accurate understanding of the doctrine expressed by that word, we must first have exact notions concerning the essence of Christ’s redemptive work and likewise of the various ways in which Mary may be said to have co-operated therein.

We take the term “Redemption” to mean exclusively the restoring of the human race to the divine friendship lost by sin, in virtue of the meritorious and satisfactory acts which the Savior performed while still on earth, and which He offered to the Eternal Father with and through His sacrificial death on the cross. The “price” which Christ paid for our ransom from the slavery of Satan was actually the sum total of His merits and satisfactions from the time of the Incarnation until His self-immolation on Calvary. The Eternal Father was so pleased with this price offered by His beloved Son, that He canceled our debt, was reconciled to the human race, and showed Himself ready to grant us again the graces necessary for our salvation. The Redemption just described is called by some objective Redemption, (6) by others, Redemption in actu primo, and again by others, Redemption sensu proprio. The actual application of this Redemption to individual souls is referred to by some modern authors as the subjective Redemption (Redemption in actu secundo; Redemption sensu lato). In this article we are directly concerned with the Redemption itself (Redemption in the proper sense) and not with the application of its fruits to individuals.

Speaking in general, there are two ways in which Our Lady may be said to have co-operated in Christ’s redemptive work: mediately (indirectly, remotely) and immediately (directly, proximately). Mary co-operated mediately, for example, by meriting some of the circumstances of the Incarnation, and chiefly by giving birth to the world’s Savior. Since Mary knowingly and willingly consented to the coming of Christ with a view to man’s Redemption, it is clear that this co-operation of hers was moral and formal, notwithstanding its being mediate. (7) She co-operated immediately if her merits and satisfactions were accepted by Almighty God together with the merits and satisfactions of Christ to bring about the selfsame effect, namely, the restoration of the human race to God’s former friendship. Another type of immediate co-operation would be had, for example, if Our Lady had determined Christ (by request, command, counsel, etc.) to perform the work of Redemption, thus directly influencing the Savior’s redemptive acts in themselves. This particular point will call for further observations when we discuss the nature of the Coredemption, under Section IV to follow.

Let us now cast a rapid glance at the various opinions expressed by Catholic (8) theologians in this connection. It is, of course, admitted by all that Our Lady had a mediate share in our Redemption inasmuch as she freely consented to become the conscious instrument of the Redeemer’s coming by consenting to be His Mother. Furthermore, it is generally granted that Our Lady participated in our Redemption in the sense that, throughout her life, she united her sentiments, prayers, and sufferings to those of her divine Son, desiring to be associated with His saving mission out of love for the human race. But the agreement ceases as soon as theologians endeavor to determine the precise value, efficacy, and extent of that co-operation. A first group, representing the minority, contends that Our Lady’s association with the Redeemer, as just described, had no value or efficacy whatever for the Redemption itself (objective Redemption, as they call it), but only for the application of its fruits to individual souls (subjective Redemption, as they say). In other words, the human race was reinstated into the friendship of God in view of the merits and satisfactions of Christ alone. Mary, too, had merits and satisfactions of her own, but these merely won for her the right, or quasi right, to become the dispenser of all the graces which flow from the Savior’s redeeming sacrifice. Such is, in its barest outline, the opinion of H. Lennerz, S.J., W. Goossens, G. D. Smith, and several other distinguished theologians and Catholic writers. (9)

A second group, no less distinguished than the first, believes that Our Lady co-operated proximately, directly and immediately, in the Redemption itself (objective Redemption) inasmuch as Almighty God was pleased to accept her merits and satisfactions together with those of Christ (although subordinately to them) as having redemptive value for the liberation of mankind from the slavery of Satan and its supernatural rehabilitation. Hence, just as the world was redeemed by Christ, it was also coredeemed by Mary. The difference between the two causalities lies in this, that while Christ’s merits and satisfactions were infinite, self-sufficient, and de condigno ex toto rigore justitiae, Our Lady’s merits and satisfactions were finite, totally dependent upon those of Christ whence they drew all their value, and de congruo. (10) Such is the view which we ourselves have consistently upheld and which has the endorsement of the vast majority of Catholic theologians at the present time. Outstanding for their contributions in this connection are Msgr. J. Lebon, J. M. Dover, S.J., the late Canon J. Bittremieux, C. Dillenschneider, C.Ss.R., C. Friethoff, O.P., P. Strater, S.J., H. Seiler, S.J., G. M. Roschini, O.S.M., E. Druwé, S.J., and D. Bertetto, S.D.B. (11) In Section IV below we shall have occasion to discuss in greater detail the various ways in which these theologians explain the nature of Mary’s Coredemption sensu proprio.

Within the past decade a small group of German theologians have undertaken to champion what many consider a “middle-course theory” between the two schools of thought just referred to. Summarized in a few words, their position may be stated as follows: Our Blessed Lord alone brought about our reconciliation with God in actu primo. This presupposed, Our Lady may be said to have proximately cooperated in the objective Redemption in the sense that she “accepted” the fruits of the Savior’s redemptive sacrifice and made them available to the members of the Church whom she officially represented on Calvary. (12) As the alert reader will observe, this theory does not adopt a true “middle course.” While their advocates frequently use the terminology of the second group (a clever camouflage), actually their explanation (or destruction?) of Our Lady’s Coredemption coincides substantially with that of Professors Lennerz and Goossens. (13)

With the above preliminary remarks in mind, we shall now proceed to give a resumé of the arguments which would seem to establish the thesis championed by the theologians of the second group.

I. The Ordinary Magisterium on Mary’s Coredemption

Under the term “magisterium” we designate the teaching of the Supreme Pontiffs and of the body of bishops in communion with Rome. We refer to it as “ordinary” in contradistinction to the solemn and extraordinary teaching contained in ex cathedra pronouncements or conciliar definitions. We are dealing here with less important documents such as encyclical letters, papal allocutions, and the like. (14) As far as doctrinal questions are concerned, the Pope and the bishops, and they alone, constitute the authentic and divinely appointed teaching authority here on earth. While God’s revelation is objectively preserved in Sacred Scripture and divine Tradition, nevertheless the data found in these sources must always be interpreted according to the mind of the living magisterium. It is only by following the guidance of this “proximate rule of faith” that the faithful can be sure of grasping the genuine sense of the depositum fidei. And by “the faithful” we mean, not only the simple, unlettered, ordinary Catholic, but the professional theologians as well, regardless of their learning and official status.

It is only within the past one hundred years that the Popes have turned their attention to the specific phase of Mariology being discussed here. Nevertheless, their repeated statements in this connection are sufficiently clear and important to deserve separate treatment in this article. (15) The series of noteworthy testimonies fittingly opens with Leo XIII (1878-1903) whose numerous Marian encyclicals contributed so much to the recent Mariological movement. In his Jucunda semper (1894) Pope Leo states that “when Mary offered herself completely to God together with her Son in the temple, she was already sharing with Him the painful atonement on behalf of the human race… (at the foot of the cross) she willingly offered Him up to the divine justice, dying with Him in her heart, pierced by the sword of sorrow.” (16) A year later he wrote that “she who had been the cooperatrix in the sacrament of man’s Redemption, would be likewise the cooperatrix in the dispensation of graces deriving from it.” (17) The passage is worth noting because it clearly distinguishes the Redemption itself from its actual application, and points out that Our Lady co-operates in both.

A similar distinction is alluded to in the much-discussed text of the encyclical Ad diem illum (1904) of St. Pius X (1903-1914). Here we read: “Owing to the union of suffering and purpose existing between Christ and Mary, she merited to become most worthily the reparatrix of the lost world, and for this reason, the dispenser of all the favors which Jesus acquired for us by His death and His blood.” The Pontiff then mentions that Christ is the source of grace, and Mary its channel; hence, far from him to ascribe to her the efficient causality of grace. Then he continues: “Nevertheless, because she surpasses all in holiness and in union with Christ, and because she was chosen by Christ to be His partner in the work of human salvation, she merits for us de congruo, as they say, that which Christ merited for us de condigno, and she is the principal dispenser of the graces to be distributed.” (18) Some theologians, it is true, understand these words as referring exclusively to Our Lady’s cooperation in the so-called subjective Redemption; but in all probability those who interpret them in the sense of a true and proper Co-redemption (and they are the majority) have captured the genuine meaning of the papal passage. (19)

If some hesitation is conceivable as regards the teaching of Popes Leo and St. Pius, the stand of their successor, Benedict XV (1914-1922), leaves no room for doubt. He was the first Pope to formulate the doctrine of Mary’s Coredemption in trenchant and unequivocal terms. His classical text is found in the Apostolic Letter Inter sodalicia (1918) and reads in part: “To such extent did (Mary) suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him—insofar as she could—in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.” (20) It is to be noted that the Pope is not reviewing here the various aspects of Our Lady’s remote connection with the redemptive work of her Son; the specific manner in which she is said to have redeemed the world with Christ is her direct participation in the Passion, in the sacrificial immolation itself, in order to make satisfaction for the sins of the world. (21)