The Concept of Redemption and Co-redemptioin During the “Golden Age” of Spanish Mariology

I. Introduction

1.1 During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries strong controversy occurred over the nature and forms of redemption, and also over that of Marian co-redemption, principally in Spain where for many years lively disputes continued over the Immaculate Conception. The goal of these controversies was above all the definition and clarification of the concept of redemption, so as to explain adequately the meaning and content of the work of Jesus Christ, universal Redeemer.

Alongside this, there was an important secondary intention as well. On the one hand the theologians and mariologists sought to introduce into the clarification a concept and type of redemption which did not have sin in itself, either committed or contracted, as its proper object or matter, and thus to make that concept compatible with, and applicable to a person such as the Immaculate Virgin who had not been touched in any way by sin.

Further, these theologians aimed at perfecting a concept of redemption not absolutely exclusive to the Son of God, Savior and Redeemer of mankind, but which would admit a contribution, or collaboration on the part of the creature as well. The basis and the reason for so nuancing the concept of redemption was precisely to render it compatible with the teaching long since traditional in the Church since the time of St. Irenaeus, viz., with the efficacious collaboration of the Virgin Mary, the New Eve, in the redemption of men.

Under discussion here, is a characteristic feature of Catholic soteriology, about which there exist, in fact, considerable differences among theologians. Over and above this, Martin Luther had introduced into the problematic of redemption, his theories concerning justification and the application of the merits of Christ to sinners. What kinds of merit were to be applied? What was the value of such merit?

The disputes over redemption during these centuries were the origin of different theories and explanations, both of the nature of redemption and of the collaboration of the Immaculate Virgin in the redemption, in brief, of the co-redemption. These have continued to be explored down to the present day. So also today, differences of criteria and ways of reflecting continue in relation to the concept or significance of the redemptive work of Christ and, above all, in relation to the collaboration of the Coredemptress, the Virgin Mary, in the redemption. And today, as in past ages, clarification of concepts is sought in order to attain an objective and adequate understanding of the truth: the image of Mary, Mother of the Son of God, and as Immaculate Virgin and Spouse of St. Joseph, collaborator with Him in the work of redemption.

1.2 In past centuries and during the golden age of our [Spanish] theology and mariology, primary attention was devoted to the analysis of theological concepts from the aspect and in the speculative, intellectualist style, characteristic of the scholastic theological system, at times overdoing the subtleties of this kind of thought. Conversely, little place was given to positive theology just in its beginnings (initiated by Petavius…), an approach resting more on the value and significance of facts and testimonials.

This conceptualist methodology within the scholastic system tends to brake, in great part, any progress in making intelligible the underlying problems. It is no easy matter to clarify in simple, brief form what has been transmitted to us from the mariological controversies of the golden age, let alone do it with this kind of approach.

In view of this, I have chosen a different method which facilitates a greater clarification of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and a more objective knowledge of the reality of the redemption. In a time of easy access to information, of transatlantic flights, when an idea reaches the poles of the earth before a word is spoken-these are facts of the moment-the first requirement is the perfect understanding of experiences, and then the search for a solution to the problems, and the formulation of definitions for the concepts of reality via other possible methods.

In view of this observation, I intend to modify at certain points the theme or object of reflection in this conference or, better perhaps, its premise. In this regard I affirm that:

The priority of the redemption is not, properly speaking, a concept, and is not the equivalent of a definition, verification, or realization of a concept. The redemption is a fact, a phenomenon, a living experience, is Christ the Redeemer. Thus it is experienced. He is our Redemption.

St. Paul, speaking of peace as a union (or unity) of the spirit and heart, says of Jesus Christ: He is our peace who has made his people one (cf. Eph 2: 14), because this unity is in Him, and can be spiritually participated, so that Christ lives in us: it is Christ who lives in me (cf. Gal 2: 10); or who is born in us through faith (cf. Eph 3: 17). These expressions are not mere metaphor, nor are they reducible to symbolism. Christ is our life, is our peace, if not in the totality which He is, then by participation in that of which our soul is capable. If this is not so, or only so in an improper sense, what would these words of Jesus mean, or to what might they point: I am the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn 14: 6)?

1.3 Christ is our Redemption: how is this text to be understood? What content and significance does this affirmation hold?

1.3.a Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, the Word who from eternity has been with God (cf. Jn 1: 1). He is the Word made flesh as expression and manifestation of the infinite, merciful love of God.

This is the reality of Christ. It is the merciful love of God in action, become flesh to conquer, destroy, and make sin disappear from the world. But it is still more: He made it disappear in the very moment of His Incarnation, because the very mystery of the Incarnation was redemption for the world. Because this is the work of infinite love, this first opening of the heart of Jesus, heart of love for the Father and for men, his brothers, it was condign and superabundant satisfaction for the sins of each one, and for all sinners. The Incarnation was a meritorious act of the Son of God made man, to pay the debt of original sin, and of all the sins of mankind.

I think that this is the profoundest meaning of the text of St. Paul to the Galatians (4: 4): “In the fullness of times God sent his own Son, born of the woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law…” The Incarnation of the Son of God, born of the woman, means the redemption of those under the law; for it grants the liberty of the sons of God, the liberty with which Christ frees us (cf. Gal 4: 31). {footnote}R. G. Bandas, La Redenzione, idea centrale in S. Paolo, Rome 1961, pp.135-137 [English original: The Master-idea of Saint Paul’s Epistles, or the Redemption. A Study of Biblical Theology, Bruges1925].{/footnote}

Christ is our peace, is our liberty, because He is our “Redemption.”

1.3.b From this point of view, I wish to orientate the study and analysis of the concept of redemption. My goal is to center it in Christ, and to reaffirm once more, as basic principle of my view of the “redemption,” that Christ is our Redemption.

In this principle, one saves the unicity and universality of the redemption. It is one and the same for all the redeemed, without exception. And in it, one encounters, as well, the explanation of the variety of forms, modes, offices of Christ in relation to the redeemed. Such variety depends not on the subjects to whom the redemption applies; rather it arises from the riches and superabundance of graces and gifts in the treasury of the Son of God.

Interestingly, because redemption and its specific nature are one, its forms and modes, however, are multiple and, as such, have come to be explicitly defined along the history of salvation.

1.3.c The forms of redemption: Prescinding from etymological questions and focusing only on the theological concept, redemption means liberation of the person, principally from sin and from the effects of sin, as well as other types of spiritual slavery, accomplished by Jesus Christ, the God-man, by way of the mysteries of His flesh. It is the liberation or deliverance of which St. Paul speaks, and to which the Letter to the Hebrews and Vatican II refer with this passage: the Son of God became man, and clothed Himself with a human nature “so as to free man from sin through the mysteries of His manhood.” {footnote}Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 55. In general, theologians in referring to these mysteries, center their attention on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. J. Solano, SJ, De Verbo Incarnato, in Sacrae Theologiae Summa, Madrid 1956, vol. III, pp. 304-308). It is clear, however, that all these mysteries in the life of the Son of God have redemptive value. Christ is our redemption, as I have just noted above.{/footnote} Thereby the entire life of Christ the Redeemer holds a redemptive value because, in its entirety, it is an unfolding and a manifestation of the mysteries of His flesh, or of His human nature, united hypostatically to the divine Person of the Word. In His redemptive actions, two elements are to be considered: the material element and the formal or moral element.

The material element depends on the nature of the act, considered from the point of view of human nature. The formal-moral element, without doubt, appears as the common factor in all these redemptive actions: it is the free and voluntary acceptance on Christ’s part, the love and obedience with which He accepts the various mysteries of His human nature.

The specific forms of redemption correspond to the various mysteries of His human nature, considered precisely as the material element of the redemptive act. One may say that the complete human nature, as the entire person, actuates and plays a part in the entire redemptive act of Christ. The differences, however, must be determined in accord with the material element in His human acts, and their constitutive differences.

In this sense, soteriology underscores the value of the meaning and of the redemptive content of the mysteries of the Redeemer’s humanity: the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Presentation of the Son of God in the temple; the mysteries of the Redeemer’s Passion and Death on the Cross; the mystery of His glorious Resurrection.

The different, but very important forms of redemption from the biblical and positive point of view, prescinding from other considerations, seem to me to be the following:

1) Redemption in the form of condign and superabundant “satisfaction-expiation” for sin

2) Redemption in the form of merit

3) Redemption in the form of “redemption-reconciliation”

4) Redemption in the form of sacrifice-oblation

5) Redemption in the form of liberation

6) Redemption in the form of ransom {footnote}These forms are common enough in soteriology. They have a clear basis in Sacred Scripture, particularly in St. Paul, and in the prophecies and symbolism of the Old Testament. There exists an extensive bibliography on the subject. Cf. Solano, De Verbo Incarnato, cit., pp. 245-313; Bandas, La Redenzione…, cit., pp. 207-292; B. M. Xiberta, O.Carm., Tractatus de Verbo Incarnato. II, Soteriologia, Madrid 1954, pp. 466-766.{/footnote}

Christ Himself, made man for us, who died and rose for our salvation, is the Redeemer and the perfect redemption, superabundant and embracing the whole of mankind, and all the sins of the world.

The problem of the application of the fruits of the redemption which is Christ, or the modes for making redemption efficacious for each of the necessities of grace and of divine salvation, is a diverse question.

1.4 It is not my intention here to present a systematic exposition of the concept of “redemption” and of “coredemption.” My objective is more historical than systematic. Within the ambit of history, it is limited to Spanish theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Even less is it my aim to give a general vision of the thinking of the theologians and mariologists of this era, an attempt far exceeding the limits of this essay. The fact is, many great theologians never produced a systematic treatise on “redemption.” But they did expound very important soteriological themes in discussing other more general questions, e.g., on the motive and necessity of the Incarnation of the Son of God, on the grace of Jesus Christ, etc.{footnote}For example, the Salmanticenses treat the merit of Jesus Christ in question 19 of the treatise De Incarnatione (Disputation 28), where they also deal with what pertains to the will and to the virtue of Christ in the order of operation. In general they treat redemption, satisfaction, etc., for sin in Treatise XXI, De Incarnatione, Disputation 1.{/footnote}

Additionally, the objective of this study is limited in terms of its orientation. It is not so much an examination of the general thought of these theologians on the “redemption” as to follow them as they try, more or less in fidelity to the texts of St. Thomas Aquinas on the redemption, to apply his thought to the Virgin Mary, and at the same time, defend the privilege of the Immaculate Conception: i.e., the fact that the Virgin Mary did not contract either a minimal guilt of original sin or indebtedness to sin. Included in this aim is an analysis of the theories of those theologians who exclude the Virgin Mary from the decree concerning the transmission of original sin, and seemingly suppress any relation at all to the sin of Adam. In this case, how can one affirm that Mary was in any way “redeemed” by Christ?

Limiting, then, my study on the concept of redemption to a few, but important authors, defending the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and Her preservation from all guilt and stain of original sin, I intend to explain in what sense or in terms of what concept She was truly redeemed, in view of the foreseen merits of Her Son. The solution to this problem will provide the key to a definition of the concept of Co-redemptrix, applied to the Virgin Mary.

II. Development of Our Theme

2.1 – The Concept of “redemption”

2.1. a) Methodology

“Redemption” in itself is not an absolute concept, but a relative and highly conditioned one. It depends on the fact and concept of sin and, in particular, of original sin. Hence, the more important authors-including St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, the Salmanticenses and, particularly, defenders of the Immaculate Virgin who treat of redemption-condition their explanation of its nature, and relate it with the existence of original sin or with preservation from said sin.

This conditioning refers or extends not only to the concepts of sin and redemption, but also to its very existence. Redemption, properly speaking, would not have existed, unless sin had pre-existed. Certain elements or aspects which are considered redemptive in the present economy of salvation, such as “satisfaction” or “sacrifice,” could have existed, even had there been no sin, since satisfaction can be given to God, without having any proper relation with the existence of sin.{footnote}The Salmanticenses, for example, are careful observers of the differences.They distinguish with precision the concept of redemption from that of mere satisfaction. Cf. Salmanticenses: Collegii Salmanticensis fr. Discalceatorum B. Mariae de Monte Carmeli… Cursus Theologicus…, Tractatus XXI, De Incarnatione, Disp. 1, Dub. XI, ns. 294-295.{/footnote}

It is not necessary to accumulate data in demonstration of the relation between “redemption” and sin, and its dependence on the concept of offense-injury to the Godhead-which supposes original sin. In treating of sin, the theologians of the epoch under consideration, set in relief certain properties and characteristics of original sin, which influence the definition of the concept of redemption. Here are the two proper notes of this sin: its transmission via natural generation and its universality.

If these theologians treated the application of redemption to the Immaculate Virgin in a particular, exceptional and unique form, that was to give an explanation for exigencies of these two properties: viz., the Virgin Mary is a daughter of Adam by way of natural generation, and that for this reason She is in some way included under the law of universality of sin.

Francisco Suárez, to cite one example, who supports theological conclusions in favor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, amply treats questions relative to original sin in many of his works. {footnote}Thus he did it, for example, in commentaries on the first and third parts of the Summa; in the treatise on vices and sins, as the Salmanticenses also did it, in the light of the posthumous edition (1628); in the work on the Mysteries of the Life of Christ, published in 1592; and of other, less important writings.{/footnote}

This style is fairly common in many theologians and mariologists during these centuries. Other authors give special attention to questions about original sin in books and monographs, and in writings in defense of the Immaculate Conception. Various important authors can be cited in exemplification.{footnote}In this group of authors I cite only F. Quirino de Salazar, because of the importance this work holds, and in view of the influence it had on subsequent authors. See: Pro Immaculata Deiparae Virginis Conceptione Defensio, Compluti 1618.{/footnote}

In their treatment of these questions, the Salmanticenses follow a procedure similar to that of Francisco Suárez. Above all, they emphasize the core of the relation between original sin and redemption. This has various aspects. But in first place they consider that sin is “the matter” of spiritual redemption, and that there can exist no redemption in the true sense, if there exists no relation to sin, or to the “debitum peccati.”{footnote}Salmanticenses, Cursus Theologicus…, cit., Tractatus XIII, De Vitiis et peccatis, Disp. XV, Dub. III and IV, principally, ns. 70 ff. Here is the Latin text of the affirmation concerning the “debitum peccati” in the Immaculate Virgin: “Alia ratio sumitur… ex ipsa essentia et munere redemptionis, cuius conceptus cum veritate et proprietate salvari nequit sine respectu ad peccatum, vel ad peccati debitum illius qui redimitur.”{/footnote}