“There Is No Other Single Word”



The Mariological fruits of the Golden Age sustain Marian thought on Coredemption for two successive centuries. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries do not bring forth any substantially new harvest of insight into the Mother Co-redemptrix, but do witness a much more generous use of the title of Co-redemptrix in the fields of both theology and spirituality. By the end of the nineteenth century, “Co-redemptrix” clearly becomes the dominant title to convey the Mother of God’s saving collaboration in Redemption, and is used in hundreds of testimonies by a plethora of theologians, saints, and mystics. (1) The Redemptrix title, on the other hand, essentially falls out of common usage during this period.


The Marian master, St. Louis Grignion de Montfort († 1716) from whom John Paul II derives his Marian motto of consecration, “Totus Tuus” (entirely yours), preaches that the coredemptive sacrifice of the Mother throughout her life is a glorification of our Lord’s own independence precisely through “depending” on the Virgin Mother:

… (Our Blessed Lord) glorified His independence and His majesty in depending on that sweet Virgin, in His conception, in His birth, in His presentation in the temple, in His hidden life of thirty years, and even in His death where she was to be present in order that He might make with her but one same sacrifice, and be immolated to the Eternal Father by her consent, just as Isaac of old was offered by Abraham’s consent to the will of God. It is she who nourished Him, supported Him, brought Him up, and then sacrificed Him for us. (2)


The Franciscan author, Charles del Moral († 1731) may be the first theologian to teach that the merits of the Immaculate Co-redemptrix, while being totally dependent upon the merits of Jesus, were also in themselves “condign” merits in a secondary sense.


Our Lady’s merits, according to del Moral, were more than just “fitting” or congruous (de congruo) but also worthy, not in strict justice, but in relation to and dependency upon the superabundant merits of the Redeemer:


The Mother of God at the foot of the cross, co-suffering and offering her Son to the Eternal Father, with her Son and by her merits satisfied in a sense (secundum quid), but de condigno and only secondarily, as the Co-redemptrix, for the sins of the whole human race. (3)


And further:


…the Mother of God co-operated with her Son in the salvation of men, the grace and glory of the angels, by acts meritorious de condigno, but dependent on the merits of her Son. Therefore, in that sense we say that it now seems consistent with theological principles that whatever Christ the Lord merited for us falls also under the condign—and not merely the congruous—merits of the Mother of God, dependent … on the superabundant merits of her Son. (4)


Marian Doctor of the Church and Redemptorist founder, St. Alphonsus de Liguori († 1787), invokes the Madonna of Calvary under the “Redemptrix” title, in acknowledgement of the merits of her sacrifice at Calvary: “By the great merit that she acquired in this great sacrifice, she is called redemptrix.” (5) The Doctor of Mary’s Universal Mediation also calls her the ” Co-redemptrix,” (6) and explains how her Coredemption at Calvary is the means by which she becomes the spiritual “Mother of our souls”:


She offered to the Eternal Father with so much grief in her own heart, the life of her beloved Son for our salvation. Hence St. Augustine testifies that, having cooperated by her love in order that the faithful be born to the life of grace, by that she became spiritual Mother of all who are members of our head Jesus Christ. (7)


And:


Christ provided that the Blessed Virgin, through the sacrifice and oblation of His life, co-operate in our salvation and thus become the Mother of our souls. And our Savior wished to signify this when, before He died, looking down from the cross at His Mother and disciple standing there, He first said to Mary: “Behold thy Son”—as if to say: “Behold, now man is born to the life of grace on account of the oblation of My life made by you for his salvation.” (8)


As to the unity of will and singularity of sacrifice offered by Jesus and Mary, St. Alphonsus expounds:


In the death of Jesus, Mary united her will to that of her Son, in such a way that both offered one and the same Sacrifice; and therefore the holy Abbot (Arnold of Chartres) says that thus the Son and the Mother accomplished the Redemption of the human race, obtaining salvation for men—Jesus by satisfying for our sins, and Mary by obtaining for us that this satisfaction be applied to us. (9)


Venerable John Henry Newman and Fr. Fredrick William Faber


By the middle of the nineteenth century, we have the corroboration of Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman († 1890), one of the most quoted theological sources at the Second Vatican Council. Newman defends Mary Co-redemptrix in his dialogue with the Anglican clergyman Pusey by reason of the title’s relation to the other glorious patristic titles granted to Christ’s Mother:


When they found you with the Fathers calling her Mother of God, Second Eve, and Mother of all Living, the Mother of Life, the Morning Star, the Mystical New Heaven, the Sceptre of Orthodoxy, the All-undefiled Mother of Holiness, and the like, they would have deemed it a poor compensation for such language, that you protested against her being called a Co-redemptrix… (10)


A valuable apologetic contribution to the legitimate usage of Co-redemptrix comes from the pen of Newman’s colleague in the Oxford movement, the founder of the London Oratory, Fr. Fredrick William Faber († 1863). Though more disposed to the popular heart than to the speculative mind, Faber’s commentary on the title provides several important distinctions which benefit a precise concept and pastoral use of Mary Co-redemptrix for the common faithful. (11)


Faber begins with an honest overview of the Co-redemptrix title in light of the testimonies of saints and doctors, yet bears in mind the need to protect the uniqueness of Christ as sole divine Redeemer:


Saints and doctors have united in calling our Blessed Lady co-redemptrix (co-redemptress) of the world. There is no question of the lawfulness of using such language, because there is such overwhelming authority for it. The question is as to its meaning. Is it merely the hyperbole of panegyric, the affectionate exaggeration of devotion, the inevitable language of a true understanding of Mary, which finds common language inadequate to convey the whole truth? Or is it literally true, with an acknowledged and recognized theological accuracy attached to it? This is a question which has presented itself to most minds in connection with devotion to our Blessed Mother, and there are few questions to which more vague and unsatisfactory answers have been made, than to this. On the one hand, it seems rash to assert of language used both by saints and doctors, that it is only exaggeration and hyperbole, flowery phraseology intended to startle, but without any real meaning hidden beneath it. On the other hand, who can doubt that our most Blessed Lord is the sole Redeemer of the world, His Precious Blood the sole ransom from sin, and that Mary herself, though in a different way, needed redemption as much as we do, and received it in a more copious manner and after a more magnificent kind in the mystery of the Immaculate Conception? (12)


Faber condemns a false concept of “redemptrix” which would erroneously designate Mary as a female redeemer parallel to Christ. But he also applauds the accurate sense of the doctrine particularly conveyed in the compound term, Co-redemptrix: “We certainly shrink from asserting that the language of the saints has no meaning, or is inadvisable; and, at the same time, we have no doubt that our Blessed Lady is not the co-redemptrix of the world in the strict sense of being redemptrix, in the unshared sense in which our Lord is Redeemer of the world, but she is co-redemptrix in the accurate sense of that compound word.” (13)


Faber describes how all the Christian baptized are called to participate in an analogous way in the work of Redemption in the application of redemptive graces to souls, commenting upon St. Paul’s co-suffering call of Colossians 1:24 (the same call which will later be exhorted by twentieth century popes, that all become “co-redeemers” (14)):


The elect co-operate with (Christ) in this work as His members. They have become His members by redeeming grace, that is, by the application to their souls of His sole redemption. By His merits they have acquired the ability of meriting. Their works can satisfy for sin, the sins of others as well as their own, by their union with Him. Thus, to use St. Paul’s language, by their sanctified sufferings or by their voluntary penances they “fill up in the bodies that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ, for His Body’s sake, which is the Church.” Thus by the communion of the saints in their Head, Jesus Christ, the work of redemption is perpetually going on by the accomplishment and application of the redemption effected on the Cross by our Blessed Lord. It is not a figurative and symbolical, but a real and substantial, co-operation of the elect with our Blessed Redeemer. There is a true secondary sense in which the elect merit the salvation of the souls of others, and in which they expiate sin and avert its judgments. But it is by permission, by divine adoption, by participation, and in subordination to the one sole and complete redemption of Jesus Christ.” (15)


The Pauline imperative of Colossians 1:24 calls all Christians to co-suffer with Jesus in the distribution of the graces of Redemption, or “Redemption received.” But Faber correctly points out the unique role of Mary Co-redemptrix with Jesus in “Redemption accomplished” or the historic obtaining of redemptive graces:


She (Mary) co-operated with our Lord in the Redemption of the world in quite a different sense, a sense which can never be more than figuratively true of the saints. Her free consent was necessary to the Incarnation, as necessary as free will is to merit according to the counsels of God…. She consented to His Passion; and if she could not in reality have withheld her consent, because it was already involved in her original consent to the Incarnation, nevertheless, she did not in fact withhold it, and so He went to Calvary as her freewill offering to the Father…. Lastly, it was a co-operation of a totally different kind from that of the saints. Their’s was but the continuation and application of a sufficient redemption already accomplished, while her’s was a condition requisite to the accomplishment of that redemption. One was a mere consequence of an event which the other actually secured, and which only became an event by means of it. Hence it was more real, more present, more intimate, more personal, and with somewhat of the nature of a cause in it, which cannot in any way be predicated of the co-operation of the saints. (16)