“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 . . . .
— Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman to Pusey (1)
We begin by explaining what Mary Co-redemptrix does not mean. This is to avoid initial misconceptions that can prejudice the term, quite apart from how the Church, that is, popes, saints, doctors, mystics and martyrs, has in fact used it. It is one thing to espouse that “I do not accept the Church calling the Mother of Jesus the ‘Co-redemptrix,'” to reject the title due to a misconception of what the Church herself denotes by it. It is a different and intellectually unjust matter to maintain that the Church means something other than what she says she means when she calls the Mother of Jesus the “Co-redemptrix.”
What does “Co-redemptrix” not mean in the teachings of the Catholic Church? It does not mean that Mary is a goddess, that she is the fourth person of the Trinity, that she in any way possesses a divine nature, that she is in any fashion not a creature completely dependent upon her Creator like all other creatures. In quoting one of the greatest Marian saints of Church history, St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, I join with him and the entire Church in asserting the Christian truth of Mary’s unquestionable creaturehood and total dependence on the Divine Lord of all, and that God has no absolute need for the participation of the Mother of Jesus for the accomplishment of his divine will:
I avow, with all the Church, that Mary, being a mere creature who has come from the hands of the Most High, is in comparison with His Infinite Majesty less than an atom; or rather, she is nothing at all, because only He is “He who is” (Exod. 3:14); consequently that grand Lord, always independent and sufficient to Himself, never had, and has not now, any absolute need of the holy Virgin for the accomplishment of His will and for the manifestation of His glory. He has but to will in order to do everything. (2)
The truth embodied by the Church’s doctrine concerning the Virgin Mary applies entirely to the subject of Redemption. The Church maintains that Mary’s participation in the Redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, was by no means absolutely necessary. Moreover, Mary herself, as a creature and a daughter of Adam and Eve within the human family was in need of being preserved from the effects of original sin, and thereby was wholly dependent upon her Son-Redeemer for her own exalted form of Redemption.
Any concept of Mary Co-redemptrix, therefore, that suggests the Mother of Jesus is a fourth Trinitarian person or some type of goddess must be immediately and entirely rejected as grave heresy against Christian revelation.
What then does the Church mean when she calls the Blessed Virgin Mary the “Co-redemptrix?” Let us first look at the etymological meaning of the title itself. The prefix, “co-” derives from the Latin term “cum,” which means “with” and not “equal to.” Although some modern languages, such as English, sometimes use the prefix “co” with connotations of equality, the true Latin meaning remains “with.” And in English, for example, the prefix “co” is at other times properly used to signify “with” in a context of subordination or dependence, in cases such as “pilot and co-pilot”; “star and co-star”; “Creator and co-creator” in the theology of the body and nuptial love, and so forth.
In the revealed word of God, St. Paul identifies the early Christians as “co-workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9) in a meaning and context of “co” which cannot possibly denote equality. So, too, are we “co-heirs” with Christ (Rom. 8:17), without meaning that we are equally heirs to heaven as the only-begotten Son of God is heir to Heaven.