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)
…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)
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)
Faber goes on to enumerate three distinct rights of Mary to the title of Co-redemptrix:
She has a right to it, first of all, because of her co-operation with our Lord in the same sense as the saints, but in a singular and superlative degree. She has a second right to it, which is peculiar to herself, because of the indispensable co-operation of her Maternity. She has a third right to it, because of her dolors… These last two rights are unshared by any other creature, or by all creatures collectively. They belong to the incomparable magnificence of the Mother of God. (17)
He concludes that “there is no other single word” which captures the full doctrine of Coredemption, in which the Mother of the Redeemer stands singularly above all the elect:
In fact, there is no other single word in which the truth could be expressed; and, far off from His sole and sufficient redemption as Mary’s co-operation lies, her co-operation stands alone and aloof from all the co-operation of the elect of God. This, like some other prerogatives of our Blessed Lady, cannot have justice done it by the mere mention of it. We must make it our own by meditation before we can understand all that it involves. (18)
Perhaps it is Faber’s desire to translate the glory and sublimity of the truth of Co-redemptrix to the heart of the “common man,” the “ordinary” London Catholic, that aids him in simplifying its truth in such palatable expressions. His staunch defense of the title is exceptional (19) as was his devotion to the Woman it represents.
For, in fact, “no other single word” captures the mystery of a creature playing such an unfathomable role in the buying back of all her fellow creatures, through a life of immaculate suffering with such infinite effects beyond the finiteness of the creature herself, all upon the condition that she gives back to the Divine the only part of her creaturehood that she truly possesses—her free will.
There is no other single word than Co-redemptrix (try as we may through other Latinized neologisms or through longer theological phrases lacking the impact of that single word) to convey the co-operation of Mary “with Jesus” in the Redemption of mankind.
During the first Vatican Council, Bishop Jean Laurent presents to the Council Fathers the following votum for the dogmatic definition of Mary Co-redemptrix. Although not accepted as mature for a dogmatic definition at the time, the votum nonetheless manifests the orthodoxy and significant ecclesial acceptance of the doctrine:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary co-suffered and afterwards co-died with Christ suffering and dying for the salvation of mankind, made to divine justice most acceptable satisfaction . . . and became our Co-redemptrix with Christ—not because it was necessary (for the infinite merit of Christ abundantly sufficed), but by spontaneous and truly meritorious association. (20)
In the perennial struggle between the head and heart, between the intellect and love, it is Christian love which must predominate. The power of the saints and of the sensus fidelium is the power of Christian love in weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:10). The theological mind must always guard itself against its greatest threat, that of intellectual pride (cf. 1 Cor 8:1), with the humble governors of the testimonies of saints and the Holy Spirit speaking through the universal Catholic faithful.
In a forward to a French work defending the Co-redemptrix title and doctrine by Jesuit father, P. Jeanjacquot († 1891), the prominent English Churchman, Cardinal Manning († 1892) writes strong words of admonition to those in theological and intellectual circles who seek to cast aspersion on the voices of the saints and the universal Christian faithful who profess love for their Mother as Co-redemptrix:
There is nothing easier than to have a profound and a superficial mind at one and the same time; to be saturated with an undigested erudition and incapable of understanding the first principles of faith. Such is, to a very large extent, the state of some individuals who, while professing belief in the Incarnation and the Divine Word, refuse to style Mary Mother of God, and who raise their voices against the titles of co-redemptrix, co-operatrix, reparatrix, and mediatrix, after having misconstrued their meaning. The presumptuous audacity with which the language and the devotions, not only of ordinary Catholics, but also of the saints, have been censured by such authors, may have caused momentary alarm in some humble and timid souls.
It is, therefore, very opportune to place in their hands this excellent translation of a work which proves in a truly solid, clear and irrefutable manner, that, owing to the Word’s Incarnation, Our Blessed Mother has received from her Divine Son a true right to all these titles. Hence, these titles which we give her are not metaphors but truths; they are not the expression of purely oratorical or poetical ideas, but the expression of true and living relations existing between her and her Divine Son, between her and us. (21)
The above article is from Mark Miravalle's “With Jesus”: The Story of Mary Co-redemptrix, Queenship Publications, 2003.
(1) According to Laurentin’s numbers (within the reasonable limitations of his study), the Co-redemptrix title is used twenty-four times to sixteen times for Redemptrix during the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the Redemptrix title is used only by a few authors, while the usages of Co-redemptrix between 1850 and 1900 are “countless,” certainly in the hundreds; cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, Etude Historique, Paris, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1951, pp. 19-22 and footnote 76.
(2) De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, n. 18.
(3) Categorized as merits ex mera condignitate; C. del Moral, Fons Illimis theologiae scoticae marianae e paradiso lattices suos ubertim effundens, Matriti, 1730, vol. 2, p. 420, n. 43.
(4) Ibid., p. 385, n. 20.
(5) St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Glorie di Maria, ed. Rome, Poliglotta, 1878, P. 2, disc. 6, p. 395.
(6) Cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, p. 59, n. 126.
(7) St. Alphonsus de Liguori, La Glorie di Marie, discorso sulla Salve Regina, ch. 1,
Opera Ascetiche, Rome, 1937.
(9) Ibid., pp. 138-139.
(10) Ven. John Cardinal Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, In a Letter Addressed to the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D., On Occasion of His Eirenicon of 1864, Longman’s, Green and Co., 1891, vol. 2, p. 78.
(11) Cf. F. W Faber, The Foot of the Cross or the Sorrows of Mary, Peter Reilly, 1956 (originally published in 1858); cf. also Calkins, “Mary the Coredemptrix in the Writings of Frederick William Faber (1814-1863),” Mary at the Foot of the Cross: Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 2001, pp. 317-344.
(12) Faber, The Foot of the Cross, p. 370.
(13) Ibid., pp. 370-371.
(14) John Paul II has used the term several times, for example in addressing the sick at the Hospital of the Brothers of St. John of God (Fatebenefratelli) on Rome’s Tiber Island on April 5, 1981, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, April 13, 1981, p. 6; while addressing the sick after a general audience given January 13,1982, Inseg., V/1, 1982, 91 and during an address to the Bishops of Uruguay gathered in Montevideo concerning candidates for the priesthood, May 8, 1988, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, May 30, 1988, p. 4.
(15) Faber, The Foot of the Cross, p. 372.
(16) Ibid., pp. 372-374.
(17) Ibid., p. 375.
(18) Ibid., p. 377. Note: A little later in the nineteenth century, the prominent German theologian, Matthias Scheeben, will both defend and challenge the legitimacy of the title of Co-redemptrix in the same work. In a manner similar to Faber, Scheeben will distinguish the unique role of the Virgin in Redemption beyond all other human collaboration, and then substantiate the use of the Co-redemptrix title when it is specified “in Christ and by Christ”: “The collaboration of Mary with the Redeemer in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ … is manifestly different from all other human collaboration both by its intimacy and by its efficacy. And that is why it is necessary to look on the effects of the sacrifice of Christ as co-acquired by Mary in this sacrifice and by this sacrifice. It can be said that Mary, in union with Christ (that is to say, by her collaboration with Him), made satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, merited grace, and consequently redeemed the world, in that she offered with Him the price of our Redemption. But it is permitted to say that, only by specifying expressly that it is in Christ and by Christ—that is to say, in the sacrifice of Christ and by the sacrifice of Christ, in so far as she co-offered this sacrifice. It is in this sense and in this way that correctly and without danger the Mother of the Redeemer can be called Co-redemptrix” (M. Scheeben, Dogmatik, Freiburg, 1882, vol. 3, p. 608).
Later in the same work, Scheeben will object to the title on the basis that the term, Redemption speaks of something that is specific only to the divine Redeemer, in the same way as the concept of the High Priesthood of Christ, a formally ordained priesthood in which Mary cannot share (cf. Scheeben, Dogmatik, English trans. by Geukers, B. Herder Book, 1947, pp. 217-227). But Scheeben himself points out that the Fathers did in fact predicate redemption and ransom to Mary: “It is a very ancient idea in the Church, expressed by numerous witnesses, rather, it is a definite dogma, proven by the Church’s mode of reading the protogospel in the Vulgate, ‘She shall crush thy head,’ (Gen. 3:15) that the effects of Christ’s redeeming death can and must be ascribed, in a very real sense, to His Mother as to their principle. Indeed, in the writings of the Fathers and the saints, almost all titles indicating Christ in His activity as Redeemer are ascribed, in a proportional and fitting sense, to the Mother of the Redeemer also. She is thus called salvatrix, reparatrix, restauratrix, liberatrix, reconciliatrix of the world, in fact also redemptrix, as well as salvation, liberation, reconciliation, propitiation, and redemption” (Scheeben, Dogmatik, p. 193).
The term, Redemption, to buy back, is more general in nature and meaning to the specific concept of formally ordained priesthood in Christ, which cannot include Mary as a formal sacrificial priest. The “back and forth” discussion of Co-redemptrix by Scheeben here, so uncharacteristic for this typically clear and certain theologian, perhaps indicates the possible influence of the Linz bishop who had condemned use of the title in that diocese. This condemnation was later reversed with the ecclesiastical use of the title sanctioned by the Holy Office under the pontificate of Pius X (cf. Hauke, “Mary, ‘Helpmate of the Redeemer’: Mary’s Cooperation in Salvation as a Research Theme,” International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, note 34; Scheeben, Dogmatik, p. 197, note 8).
(19) In light of so clear and generous a defense of the Co-redemptrix title by Faber, it is difficult to understand the comments of Fr. Laurentin that the “best of authors (during this period) use it (the Co-redemptrix title) with much hesitation and embarrassment. For example, Father Faber,” cf. Laurentin, Le Titre de Corédemptrice, p. 22; It is on occasions like this that the unquestionable historical and scholarly contribution contained in Le Titreis unfortunately compromised by a negative commentary on the doctrinal development that, once again, cannot be substantiated in the sources.
(20) J. Laurent, Vota Dogmatica Concilio Vaticano proponenda; cf. K. Moeller, Leben und Briefe von Johannes Theodor Laurent, Trier, 1889, vol. 3, p. 29: ex Collectanea Francescana, vol. 14, 1944, p. 280.
(21) Cf. Carol, “The Problem of Our Lady’s Co-redemption,” The American Ecclesiastical Review, vol. 123, 1950, p. 38.