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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)


Remarkable though it is, the above text lacks one thing: the word Coredemptrix itself. Benedict’s immediate successor, Pius XI (1922-1939) was the first Pope explicitly to apply this title to Our Lady. Perhaps his most important testimony is that found in the prayer with which he solemnly closed the jubilee of our Redemption on April 28, 1935: “O Mother of love and mercy who, when thy sweetest Son was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the cross, didst stand next to Him, suffering with Him as a Coredemptrix… preserve in us, we beseech thee, and increase day by day the precious fruit of His redemption and thy compassion.” (22) Here Our Lady is styled Coredemptrix, not because she gave birth to the Savior, but because of her proximate share in the Redemption itself; and the graces which flow from that Redemption are said to be the fruit of a joint causality: the Passion of Christ and the compassion of His Mother. (23)


While the present Holy Father, Pius XII, has not as yet employed the term “Coredemptrix” in any of his official documents, (24) nevertheless, his mind on this Marian prerogative is quite clear from several utterances in this connection. For example, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943) he writes: “It was she (Mary) who, always most intimately united with her Son, like a New Eve, offered Him up on Golgotha to the Eternal Father, together with the sacrifice of her maternal rights and love, on behalf of all the children of Adam, stained by the latter’s shameful fall.” (25) In a detailed analysis of this passage, published elsewhere, (26) we have endeavored to establish that it contains a direct reference to Our Lady’s Coredemption sensu proprio. We see no valid reason for a more restricted interpretation. Again, in his radio broadcast to the pilgrims gathered at Fatima on May 13, 1946, the same Pontiff stated:


He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty and the dominion of His kingship; for, having been associated with the King of Martyrs in the ineffable work of human Redemption as Mother and cooperatrix, she remains forever associated with Him, with an almost unlimited power, in the distribution of graces which flow from the Redemption. Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest; through Him, with Him and subordinate to Him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest and by singular election. (27)


If, as the Pope points out, Mary’s co-operation in the Redemption is the basis for her role in the application of its fruits, the former function cannot possibly be identified with her share in the subjective Redemption; it must refer to the very acquisition of graces, to the Redemption itself. Note also that Our Lady is Queen by right of conquest, which, in the teaching commonly received, means that she is our Queen because she is our Coredemptrix in the proper sense of the word.


Another passage deserving of mention is the one found in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(1950) among the most cogent arguments in favor of the Assumption. It reads: “We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been designated by the holy Fathers as the new Eve, who, although subject to the new Adam, is most intimately associated with Him in that struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the Protoevangelium (Gen. 3:15), finally resulted in that most complete victory over sin and death…” (28) Since the struggle and victory foretold in Genesis 3:15 refer to the work of Redemption, (29) it follows that Our Lady had an intimate share in the latter. Indeed, the purpose of that close association between Christ and His Mother had been specified by the same Pope on another occasion in these significant words: “Are not Jesus and Mary the two sublime loves of the Christian people? Are they not the new Adam and the new Eve whom the tree of the cross unites in sorrow and in love in order to make satisfaction for the guilt of our first parents in Eden?” (30) In view of the above papal testimonies we feel that the thesis of Mary’s Coredemption, as understood by the majority of theologians, may well claim the endorsement of the ordinary magisterium, especially as represented by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XII. In our evaluation of these and other papal utterances we must, of course, avoid the excesses of those who either minimize them or exaggerate them unduly. Both attitudes are reprehensible, particularly the former. While the passages quoted do not in any way constitute infallible pronouncements, nevertheless they should be received with humble respect and religious assent, coming, as they do, from the highest teaching authority in the Church. The Popes are undoubtedly well aware of the fact that their words are interpreted by a large number of theologians as favoring the doctrine of Mary’s Coredemption sensu proprio. Had they felt that they were being misunderstood, they surely would have used the proper means to correct the error, considering the far-reaching implications of the thesis, and their duty to safeguard the purity of the faith. Yet, not only have they failed to sound a warning, but their statements in this connection have increased in number and emphasis in recent years. (31)


II. The Argument from Sacred Scripture


It is common knowledge among Catholics and non-Catholics alike that Sacred Scripture contains no clear and explicit statement to the effect that Our Lady was destined to fulfill a coredemptive mission on behalf of the human race. However, Catholic writers in general agree that this mission is implied in the written word of God. (32) This suffices in order to consider any point of doctrine as revealed by God, as forming part of the original deposit of divine revelation.


The first, and indeed the most important, biblical passage generally advanced in support of our thesis is the well-known Protoevangelium, which embodies the promise of a future Redeemer. In striking simplicity the sacred text relates how, after the fall of our first parents in the garden of Eden, Almighty God addressed these words to the tempter disguised under the appearance of a serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; he shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for his heel” (Gen. 3:15). The Creator, therefore, is not only going to frustrate the evil designs of His enemy; in His infinite wisdom He plans a particularly humiliating device: to bring about the devil’s utter defeat by using certain means which are similar (though in reverse) to those employed by the devil to perpetrate our spiritual ruin. Immediately the question arises: who is that mysterious woman chosen by God to wage a victorious battle against His enemy? The point has been widely discussed from time immemorial, but principally in recent years, in view of the obvious Mariological implications. It is well to bear in mind that the discussion does not center on the second part of the text, which the Vulgate renders: “she shall crush thy head…,” for scholars agree that the original Hebrew read: “He (the seed of the woman) shall crush thy head,” and hence no strictly biblical argument may be drawn from it in favor of Our Lady. The debate bears directly on the first part of the pericope, namely, on the identity of “the woman” who is at enmity with Satan. While a few interpreters still contend that the reference here is to Eve and Eve alone, (33) the vast majority of Catholic theologians and exegetes hold that “the woman” designates Our Blessed Lady, either in a typical sense (34) or even in a literal sense. (35) In our humble opinion, this latter view is the only one that can possibly be reconciled with the positive data of subsequent revelation, and with the various utterances of the magisterium as found in the Ineffabilis Deus, (36)Munificentissimus Deus, (37) and Fulgens corona. (38) Indeed, there are very weighty reasons indicating that we are dealing here with an exclusive-literal Marian sense. (39)


Based on the above interpretation, the argument from the Protoevangelium may be formulated as follows: In the words of Genesis 3:15, Almighty God foretells a singular and absolute struggle between Christ and Satan, a struggle which will eventually culminate in the utter defeat of the latter. Since, on the one hand, this struggle-victory coincided with the redemptive work of the Savior, (40) and on the other hand, Our Lady’s struggle is identically the same as Christ’s, (41) and she has an intimate share in His complete triumph, (42) it follows that her coredemptive mission is already foreshadowed in the sacred text. The passage itself does not, of course, elaborate on the various modalities of that mission, although the interpretation given by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus would seem to point to a direct co-operation in the Redemption itself. (43)


This close association between the Redeemer and His Mother, foretold in the book of Genesis, is strikingly suggested also in several narratives of the New Testament. The Annunciation pericope, for example, with which we are all so familiar, has been discussed quite at length by Catholic writers in this connection. The scene introduces the Angel Gabriel informing Our Lady of God’s economy relative to the coming of the promised Redeemer through her instrumentality. Since Mary has vowed perpetual virginity, she naturally questions the heavenly messenger as to the manner in which the divine decree is to be fulfilled. Being assured that the Incarnation of the Word will be accomplished through a supernatural overshadowing on the part of the Holy Spirit, she humbly surrenders to God’s holy designs and answers: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38).


Interpreted in the light of Christian tradition, this sacred text leads us to the following conclusions: (a) that the angel was sent by God, not to impose a command which had to be obeyed by Mary regardless of her free choice, (44) but to request her consent to the divine plan; (b) that this plan concerned not merely the assumption of a human nature on the part of the Divine Word, but likewise the redemptive role with which the Incarnate Word would be charged; (c) that Our Lady gave her consent with adequate (not full) knowledge of what the Savior’s mission entailed; (45) and (d) that she gave it most willingly, namely, desiring and intending what God desired and intended to accomplish through the Incarnation. So much can be accepted—and is accepted—by Catholic theologians in general.


From the above we gather that Our Blessed Lady, by the very fact that she uttered her fiat, positively co-operated in the initial phase of the world’s Redemption. Her fiat was not simply a gracious gesture by which she “accepted” the redemptive work of Christ. It was an act of formal participation in the soteriological mystery itself. It was such, not by an absolute necessity, but by a hypothetical necessity, since it was required by the divine Will disposing that Mary should represent mankind in the supernatural alliance taking place between the Word and the human race. (46) As things stand, she was not merely a physical instrument, but a formal and official co-agent used by God to carry out His saving scheme. (47)

May we advance a step further and say, with Prof. J. M. Bover and others, (48) that Mary’s initial consent, taken by itself, implies an immediate co-operation in the entire redemptive work of her Son? Some theologians have raised difficulties against this view, and, obviously, for good reasons. Granted that a co-operation is usually considered remote or proximate, not by reason of its distance in time from the effect, but rather by reason of the amount of influence on the effect. (49) Nevertheless, this amount of influence may have varying degrees of “directness” and it is this specific circumstance that should be the deciding factor.

For this reason we may conceive of a person knowingly and willingly giving his or her (hypothetically necessary) consent so that a certain action may be performed solely by a third party. In which case the effect will be ascribed to the person giving the consent as a moral, formal cause, yet not as an immediate co-agent.


Be that as it may, the Annunciation scene is not the last word on our subject. In fact, the Evangelists do not fail to bring out the close association of Mary with her Son on the other two passages bearing directly on His redemptive mission, namely, the incident of the Purification and that of Calvary. In the former, Our Blessed Lady offers her Son to God (a public oblation corresponding to the private oblation she performed at the Incarnation) and hears the aged Simeon prophesy her future share in the Savior’s Passion: “Thine own soul a sword shall pierce.” (50) In the latter, she is publicly proclaimed the spiritual Mother of the human race as she regenerates everyone of us to the life of grace through her bitter compassion. “When Jesus, therefore, had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he said to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he said to the disciple: Behold thy mother.” (51)


The evangelist does not tell us that Mary was standing at the foot of the cross for the purpose of co-operating with her divine Son in the world’s restoration. Nevertheless, his reference to her spiritual Motherhood is quite significant at this particular juncture. That the Savior’s words “Behold thy Mother” must be interpreted as signifying Mary’s universal Maternity of grace in a scriptural sense, can scarcely be questioned any longer. (52) The mind of the magisterium on this point, (53) particularly as expressed by Pope Leo XIII, (54) is sufficiently clear to dispel all possible doubts. Now, in the present economy, the spiritual Maternity practically coincides with Our Lady’s direct co-operation in the Redemption. (55) Therefore, if—as the Popes tell us—the former was publicly proclaimed by Christ’s words on the cross, so was the latter, at least by implication. After all, it was then and there at the foot of the cross that Our Lady was bringing to its natural climax the initial oblation which took place at the Incarnation. It was then and there that she was surrendering her maternal rights on the divine Victim in order to satisfy for the sins of mankind. (56) It was then and there that she was officially sharing the immolation of the Redeemer precisely in order to regenerate the human race to the life of grace together with Him and under Him. (57) Bearing this set of circumstances in mind, we are almost compelled to see in the brief but pregnant Johannine passage an implied reference to Our Blessed Lady’s role as Coredemptrix of mankind. (58)


To sum up: all things considered, Sacred Scripture is far from being silent on the thesis of Mary’s direct share in the Savior’s soteriological mission. Exegetes and theologians may continue to debate over the precise value of specific texts, but the content of all pertinent passages combined, especially when interpreted in the light of recent papal pronouncements, does lend considerable support to the doctrine in question.


III. The Teaching of Tradition


The doctrine of Our Lady’s Coredemption is generally referred to as “traditional” in the Catholic Church. If by that is meant that this thesis, as we profess it today, has been taught in the Church from the beginning, the claim is hardly acceptable, for reasons to be indicated shortly. Nevertheless, since the teaching of contemporary theologians on this matter is but a further elaboration of what has been handed down from the beginning, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, we are justified in considering that teaching as “traditional” or based on Tradition.


In order to follow the gradual development of the doctrine through the centuries, we shall divide this treatment in three sections corresponding to the three following periods: (a) the patristic period, that is, from the beginning to the eighth century; (b) the middle ages, from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries; and (c) the modern period, from the seventeenth century to the present time.


A. The Patristic Period


One of the most ancient doctrinal portraits of Our Blessed Lady is unquestionably that which represents her as the New Eve or Second Eve, next to the New or Second Adam. The implied doctrine has two phases, according to whether it is used as a parallel or as an antithesis. In the first case, Mary is compared with the first woman before the fall, and the comparison points to her sinlessness and especially her virginity. In the second case, Mary is set in contrast to Eve after the fall, and then the emphasis is placed on her unique position in the economy of salvation. The second aspect alone is of interest to us here. Briefly formulated, the antithesis amounts to this: Just as Eve shared Adam’s responsibility in the process of original prevarication, so likewise Mary was instrumental with Christ in the reparation of the initial fall.


That this distinctive feature of Our Lady’s mission was widely accepted throughout the patristic era is admitted by all Catholic theologians and historians at the present time. Hence, we may be dispensed from the burdensome task of offering here a more or less complete anthology of pertinent ancient texts. (59) The problem which divides modern scholars concerns rather the precise interpretation to be given to these numerous texts. The classical testimony of St. Irenaeus (d. c. 202), which we will now examine, may well serve as a typical example. Our discussion concerning him applies equally to all others, since the basic idea they express is substantially one and the same. (60)


The celebrated bishop of Lyons summarizes the antithetical parallelism as follows: “Just as she (Eve) . . . having disobeyed, became the cause of death to herself and to the entire human race, so Mary . . . being obedient (to the angel’s message), became the cause of salvation to herself and to the entire human race. . . . Thus the knot of Eve’s disobedience received (its) unloosing through the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve bound by unbelief, that the virgin Mary unfastened by faith.” (61)


Even a cursory analysis of the above passage will not fail to disclose that St. Irenaeus is therein comparing not only the virginity of Eve (something purely personal) with the virginity of Mary, but also, by way of contrast, the evil effect of Eve’s action with the salutary effect of Mary’s positive causality. Moreover, the manner in which Mary exercises her causality is not merely by being the Mother of the Redeemer, but by freely consenting, in humble obedience, to the designs of God as expressed by the angel. Hence we are dealing here, not with an exclusive causality of a physical nature, as Prof. Lennerz contends, (62) but with a formal co-operation in the moral order. Indeed, since the object of that obedient consent was the redemptive Incarnation itself, it follows that Our Lady’s cooperation had a soteriological character and value. All this may be gathered from the words of the Saint without doing any violence to them.


Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that, in the teaching of St. Irenaeus, the Incarnation was “redemptive” only in the sense that, by assuming a human nature, the God-Man was thereby “summing up” the human race in Himself, thus being capable of carrying out our reconciliation by theandric acts which actually followed the Incarnation itself. In other words, the Incarnation was the initial phase of the Redemption. (63) That Mary had a very definite role to play in that initial phase is tersely declared by the author, and in this sense he styles her “the cause of salvation.” Beyond that, the Bishop of Lyons does not specify; nor, for that matter, do the other Fathers who employ the Eve-Mary antithesis. (64) For this very reason we do not share the views of those who believe that the passage in question clearly points to Mary’s immediate co-operation in the Redemption itself. (65)


The claim is sometimes made that, beyond comparing Mary with Eve, many Fathers and early Christian writers ascribe the various effects of the Redemption to Our Lady. Such an attribution, it is maintained, would hardly be justified if the Fathers had in mind only a remote causality on the part of Mary, just as one would not be justified in attributing the discovery of the American continent to Columbus’ mother, simply because she had given birth to him.


We answer that if the testimonies of the Fathers are read in their proper context and in the light of parallel passages, they are found to ascribe the effects of the Redemption to Our Lady either because of her instrumentality in the Incarnation or because of her actual intercession in heaven, as we have shown elsewhere in detail. (66) As to the example of Columbus’ mother, we fail to see the parity. The discovery of America can in no way be predicated of her because there was no internal nexus between the act of giving birth to Columbus and the future feat accomplished by him. The Incarnation, on the contrary, was the very beginning of our Redemption; it was redemptive in the sense explained above. Since Our Lady had formally co-operated therein, the early writers were amply justified in ascribing to her the work of Redemption in globo, regardless of what they thought concerning Mary’s causality in the soteriological acts which followed the Incarnation and which, per modum unius with the sacrifice of Calvary, constituted our objective reconciliation with God.


Perhaps the following example will serve to illustrate the point. Let us suppose that the coming of a certain doctor to a hospital is strictly necessary to save a patient who would certainly die unless an operation were performed on him. Let us suppose, furthermore, that the doctor refuses to go to the hospital without his wife’s consent. The latter, ardently desiring the patient’s health, gladly acquiesces. The operation is performed and the patient at once recovers.


It is evident that the wife formally and efficaciously contributed to the patient’s recovery; he owes his subsequent health to her. And yet, she did not directly and immediately co-operate in the surgical operation itself, as performed by her husband. In our humble opinion, this is the type of co-operation which the Fathers and early writers ascribe to Our Lady in the process of man’s rehabilitation. It is one thing to say that Mary’s immediate co-operation in the Redemption itself is implied in, or deduced from, the teaching of the Fathers; it is another thing to assert that the Fathers themselves perceived this type of co-operation. The former is perfectly legitimate; the latter is quite unwarranted. The complex doctrine relative to Mary’s role as the Second Eve contains, as in germ, many aspects to which the ancient writers simply did not advert. It was left to subsequent generations to arrive gradually at these aspects by way of analysis and/or deduction. (67)


B. The Middle Ages


The period which we designate here as the Middle Ages extends roughly from the ninth to the sixteenth century and may well be considered a transition period as regards our doctrine. It is during this time that theologians and Catholic writers in general, under the influence of SS. Bernard and Bonaventure, and particularly of pseudo-Albert the Great and Arnold of Chartres, begin to turn their attention to the properly soteriological character of Our Lady’s association with the Savior of mankind. (68)


As it was to be expected, we still find during this period (especially at the beginning) not a few authors who, at first sight, seem to be very explicit on the question of Mary’s Coredemption, but who, upon closer examination, do nothing but repeat what their predecessors had taught. Among these we may mention St. Tarasius (fl. 807), St. George of Nicomedia (fl. 880), Alcuin (d. 904), and Eadmer of Canterbury (d. 1124) who, incidentally, seems to be the first to mention Mary’s merit in connection with man’s Redemption. (69)


With St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) we take a definite step forward. It is in his writings that we hear, for the first time, of Our Lady’s satisfaction for the damage caused by Eve, (70) although the context would indicate only a remote co-operation in our Redemption. His importance lies rather in the fact that he introduced the idea of Our Lady’s offering the divine Victim in the temple for our reconciliation with God; an offering which, according to him, was accepted by the Eternal Father. (71) This idea was taken up and elaborated by his disciple, Arnold of Chartres (d. 1160), who may well be acknowledged as the first clear exponent of Our Lady’s Coredemption. On Calvary, he writes, Christ and Mary “together accomplished the task of man’s Redemption . . . both offered up one and the same sacrifice to God: she in the blood of her heart (i.e., through her compassion), He in the blood of the flesh … so that, together with Christ, she obtains a common effect in the salvation of the world.” (72) The great influence of Arnold’s remarkable teaching is easily gathered from the innumerable authors of subsequent centuries who explicitly quote him approvingly on this matter.


Likewise deserving of mention in the history of this development are St. Albert the Great (d. 1280) and St. Bonaventure (d. 1274). (73) The noteworthy contribution of the Universal Doctor would seem to lie in his insistence that the principium consortii outlined by the Fathers be extended to the entire process of man’s Redemption; (74) while it was left to the Seraphic Doctor to draw the only logical conclusion by pointing out that on Calvary Our Lady co-offered the divine Victim, (75) satisfied for our sins, (76) and paid the price of our Redemption. (77) The famous Mariale, until recently attributed to St. Albert, but written probably at the beginning of the following century, (78) frequently and forcibly echoes Bonaventure’s far-reaching intuitions, (79) particularly as regards Our Lady’s share in the redemptive merit of the passion. (80) In clearness of expression, however, all these authors were far surpassed by the great Dominican mystic-theologian, Blessed John Tauler (d. 1361). According to him, Mary offered herself, together with her Son, as a living victim for the salvation of all; (81) furthermore, “God accepted her oblation (on Calvary) as a pleasing sacrifice, for the utility and salvation of the whole human race … so that, through the merit of her sorrows, she might change God’s anger into mercy.” (82) A little further he thus addresses Our Lady: “(At the foot of the cross), filled with sorrow, thou hast redeemed men together with thy Son.” (83)


It is about this time that the ideas expressed above begin to be reflected with amazing limpidity in some liturgical hymns. And it is interesting to note that the term “Coredemptrix” is now making its appearance, perhaps for the first time in history. (84) The following excerpts will suffice:


Pia, dulcis et benigna

Nullo prorsus luctu digna,

Si fletum hinc eligeres

Ut compassa Redemptori

Tu Corredemptrix fieres. (85)


Laus Patri necnon Filio

Sancto simul Paraclito

Pro poenis matris et nati

Quibus sumus reparati (86)


Sit Trinitati gloria

Pro redemptionis venia

Quam meruerunt miseris

Filius et mater nobis. (87)


As to the fifteenth century, its contribution to the evolution of our doctrine was virtually nonexistent. With the exception of St. Antonine of Florence, who repeats and somewhat elaborates the excellent ideas of pseudo-Albert. (88) the several Marian writers of this period, while emphasizing Mary’s compassion on Calvary, are rather vague and ambiguous as to the nature and extent of that co-operation. (89) Something similar may be said, in general, concerning the authors of the sixteenth century. The two notable exceptions here would be Archbishop Ambrose Catarino, O.P. (d. 1553), and the eminent theologian of the Council of Trent, Alphonsus Salmeron, SJ. (d. 1585). The former trenchantly states that Our Blessed Lord and His Mother, taking upon themselves the sins of the world, merited our Redemption through their joint sufferings; (90) according to the latter, it was the will of the Savior that His holy Mother, as a Coredemptrix, should have a share in His redeeming power; for this reason our Redemption proceeded actually from both: Christ and Mary. (91)


As to Francis Suarez (d. 1617), who is sometimes styled “the father of modern Mariology,” it is obvious that his stand on the Coredemption thesis does not approach, in perspicuity of expression, that of his illustrious confrere Salmeron. However, it must be noted in all fairness that he was the first to discuss our subject ex professo in a strictly theological commentary. (92)


C. The Modern Period


If clear-cut and categorical statements like those of Tauler and Catarino were exceptional in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries respectively, they became more and more common in the period immediately following. Indeed, the seventeenth century may well be considered the “Golden Age” of Mary’s Coredemption. It is with the theologians of this epoch that the doctrine of Mary’s direct co-operation in the Redemption reaches its fullest development; and this to such extent that subsequent generations can scarcely be said to have contributed any new element of importance in this connection.