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The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life

"Appendix III: Mary as Co-redemptrix"


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For the sake of precision, theologians today commonly distinguish between the objective and the subjective redemption. The objective redemption is the payment by Christ of the price of our salvation, through His merits and satisfactions, culminating in the sacrifice of Calvary, by which a boundless treasury was set up, to which treasury nothing was to be added in future ages. The subjective redemption is the application to men of the fruits of the objective redemption.

It is clear, then, that the term merit will have a somewhat different sense, depending on whether it applies to the objective or the subjective redemption. Only Christ and Mary merited in the objective redemption. When anyone else merits, he does not contribute to this once-for-all acquisition of the treasury; rather, he merely obtains that graces be drawn from that treasury and distributed.

Furthermore, Mary's co-operation in the objective redemption may be called both remote (mediate) and proximate (immediate). Her remote co-operation is the divine motherhood. Her proximate co-operation is her service as the New Eve on Calvary. In chapter III we have shown that Mary co-operated immediately in the objective redemption.


1. Pope Pius IX

Text: Ineffabilis Deus (December 8, 1854)

And therefore just as Christ, the Mediator of God and men, having assumed human nature, blotted out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, and, as a conqueror, fastened it to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, joined with Him in a most close and indissoluble bond, together with Him and through Him, carried on eternal enmity against the poisonous serpent, and, most fully triumphing over him, crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

Comment: We note that Christ and Mary ate always associated in an "indissoluble bond"; therefore this bond should not be broken even on Calvary. Mary triumphs "with Him and through Him" in the struggle in which He "as a conqueror" took the decree against us and "fastened it to the cross." In the light of statements of later Popes, it appears that Pope Pius IX had in mind Mary's immediate co-operation in the objective redemption. But without the help of ocher texts it would be hard to be entirely sure of that face from the above passage alone.

2. Pope Leo XIII

Text 1: Iucunda semper (September 8, 1894; ASS 27:178)

For when she ... gave herself to God as a handmaid to be His Mother, or dedicated herself wholly with her Son in the temple, by both these actions she already became a sharer with Him in His laborious expiation for the human race.... Furthermore, it was in her presence and sight that the divine sacrifice was to be accomplished, for which she had generously nourished the victim ... [at the cross] she willingly offered her own Son to the Divine Justice, dying in her heart with Him, pierced with the sword of grief.

Comment: The statement thee by her motherhood and dedication she "already became a sharer" implies thee she remains a sharer later, even on Calvary.

Text 2: Adiutricem Populi (September 5, 1895; ASS 28:130)

For thereupon, in accord with the divine plan, she began so to watch over the Church ... so that she who had been the helper (administra) in the accomplishment of the mystery of human redemption, should also be the helper (administra) in the distribution of the grace coming from it for all time.

Comment: This text distinguishes dearly the objective and subjective redemption, and assigns her a similar role in each. Since there is no doubt of her role as New Eve in the distribution of all graces, by parallelism she muse have been the New Eve in the once-for-all acquisition of the divine treasury.

3. Saint Pius X

Text: Ad diem illum (February 2, 1904; ASS 36:453-54)

Moreover, we must praise the most holy Mother of God not merely for the face that she presented "to God the only-Begotten who was to be born of human members the material of her own flesh" (St. Bede, L.IV, in Luc. XI) by which He was prepared as a Victim for the salvation of men; but also for her office of guarding and nourishing this same Victim, and even, at the appointed time, of presenting Him at the altar. Hence that never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother, so that the words of the Prophet apply equally to both: "For my life is wasted with grief and my years in sighs" (Ps. 30:11). And when the supreme hour of her Son came, "there stood by the cross of Jesus, his Mother" (John 19:25), not merely occupied in looking at the dreadful sight, but even rejoicing that "her only Son was being offered for the salvation of the human race; and so did she suffer, with Him, that, if it had been possible, she would have much more gladly suffered herself all the torments that her Son underwent" (St. Bonaventure, I Sent., d. 48, ad Litt. dub. 4). Now from this common sharing of will and suffering between Christ and Mary she "merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world" (Eadmer, De Excellentia Virg. Mariae, c.9) and therefore Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus gained for us by His Death and by His Blood....

But Mary, as St. Bernard fittingly remarks (De Aquaeductu, n.4), is the "channel" or, even, the neck, through which the body is joined to the head, and likewise through which the head exerts its power and strength on the body. "For she is the neck of our Head, by which all spiritual gifts are communicated to His Mystical Body" (St. Bernardine of Siena., Quadrag. de Evangelio aeterno, Serm. X, a.3, c.3). We are thus, it will be seen, very far from declaring the Mother of God to be the author of supernatural grace, which is the function of God alone: yet, since she surpassed all in holiness and union with Christ, and was associated by Christ with Himself in the work of human redemption, she merited for us congruously, as they say, what Christ merited condignly, and is the principal minister in the distribution of grace (princeps largiendarum gratiarum ministra).

Comment: Saint Pius X stresses several times the close and never-broken sharing of Mary with Christ: "never dissociated manner of life and labors," "common sharing of will and suffering," "associated by Christ with Himself in the work of human redemption." If her association and sharing held for the Annunciation and for the distribution of all graces (see chap. V on the latter), but not for Calvary, then Saint Pius could not say "never dissociated."

He makes clear that the very reason she is Dispensatrix is that she shared in Calvary: "Reparatrix ... and therefore Dispensatrix...." By the same words he also clearly distinguishes between the objective and the subjective redemption, and makes Mary's role in the subjective redemption depend on her role in the objective redemption.

"She merited for us congruously (de congruo), as they say (ut aiunt), what Christ merited condignly (de condigno)...." The verb she merited in Latin is promeret, a present tense. This is, however, the commonplace historical present, a tense familiar in all Latin authors. We have rendered it by a past, since it refers to the past. Otherwise we would have to suppose either that Mary is still meriting (which is untrue, for merit ceases with death) or we would have to translate promeret as "obtains" (by prayer). Now this meaning would be badly out of place in the familiar balanced formula, de congruo ... de condigno. We would have to suppose that Saint Pius X deliberately ignored the usage of three centuries, and abruptly changed the sense of this old and well-established theological formula, so that we would have, on Mary's part, a prayer de congruo (whatever that would be!) balancing a merit de condigno on Christ's part. This would be an almost nonsensical combination. A change so violent and unheard of must be proved, not assumed. See also the comments in chap. III, especially note 10 on the phrase "as they say."

In spite of the above reasoning, some Mariologists who admit that later Popes dearly teach Mary's immediate co-operation in the objective redemption maintain that Saint Pius X has not made himself dear beyond doubt.

4. Pope Benedict XV

See chap. III.

S. Pope Pius Xl

Text 1: Explorata res (February 2, 1923; AAS 15:104)

... nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed Virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason, the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the redemption with Jesus Christ....

Comment: Mary is represented as the Mediatrix of all graces, especially of the all-important final grace; her share in the objective redemption is given as the chief reason for her present position.

Text 2: Miserentissimus Redemptor (May 8, 1928; AAS 20:178)

May the most gracious Mother of God smile upon and favor these our prayers and undertakings, she, who since she brought forth Jesus the Redeemer for us, nourished Him, and offered Him as a Victim at the cross, is, and is called, the Reparatrix, in virtue of her intimate union with Christ and an altogether singular grace of His.

Comment: Mary is in "intimate union" with Christ not only at the start of His life; but she also "offered Him ... at the cross." This is an "altogether singular grace" and hence is different from the grace St. John possessed at the cross.

6. Pope Pius XII

See two texts in chap. III, the second of which is quoted at greater length in chap. VII; also a very important text on the New Eve in chap. VI, p. 46.

Text 1: In Osservatore Romano, December 8, 1937 (quotes in AER, November, 1949, p. 360)

After all, the application of the merits of Christ constitutes, together with their acquisition, a single complete work, that of salvation; it was fitting that Mary should co-operate equally in the two phases of the same work: the unity of the divine plan demands it.

Comment: Since this statement was made when he was still Cardinal Pacelli, it does not carry the authority of the Pope, but it does cast light on his later statements—if light be needed. "The unity of the divine plan demands" that "Mary should co-operate equally in the two phases of the same work." Now, since there is no doubt (see chap. V) that Mary shares in all stages of the distribution of grace, she ought to share in all stages, remote and immediate, of the acquisition of graces: "the unity of the divine plan demands it." Otherwise she would not co-operate equally in both.

Text 2: In Osservatore Romano, April 22-23, 1940 (quoted in AER, October, 1951, p. 265)

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 to offer reparation for the guilt of our first parents in Eden?

Comment: This text is from the Pope, not the Cardinal. Note the mention of the New Eve "whom the tree of the Cross," Calvary, "unites in sorrow" with the New Adam, "to offer reparation for the guilt of our first parents"—that is, for original sin: but that reparation was made in the immediate objective redemption.

C. Minority Views

The majority of Catholic theologians accept the definition we have given of Mary's immediate co-operation in the objective redemption, and agree that she really did co-operate in this way. However, there is some dissent. We may group the minority theologians into two chief groups. One of these groups admit her immediate co-operation, but define it in a quite different way. We shall speak of them in appendix vii of this book. The other group, typified by W. Goossens, H. Lennerz, and G. Smith, generally try to limit her co-operation to the Divine Motherhood and her role in the dispensation of graces. They say that on Calvary she merely merited to dispense all graces, and deny that she contributed to the fundamental building up of the treasury of grace itself.

We notice at the outset that the procedure of this group is theologically unsound. Pope Pius XII solemnly warned the Mariological Congress held in Rome in 1954 (AAS 46:678) that research in Mariology, "will advance the more safely and fruitfully, the more all will keep before their eyes ... the sacred magisterium of the Church." In other words, sound theological method requires that one should first study carefully the content of revelation as interpreted by the Church. Only then should he have recourse to his private reasonings to work out further points. Otherwise, instead of studying the papal teaching with an open mind, he is apt to be led, subconsciously, to twist the papal texts into line with his preconceived notions. But this minority group instead turn first to a difficulty conjured up by their own private thinking. Then, having declared the difficulty insoluble, they proceed to force all papal teaching into line by straining the text, or else they say all the texts are ambiguous. Werner Goossens admits that he follows this sort of procedure. See his De cooperatione immediata Matris Redemptoris ad Redemptionem obiectivam (Paris, 1939), p. 56:

Now that we are about to examine the chief arguments given by them [the defenders of the immediate co-operation] we consider it of the greatest importance to repeat that the difficulties just explained forbid us, in interpreting the statements of the magisterium of the Church ... to suppose that the doctrine subject to these objections is present unless the text or context express or demand it. [Emphasis added.]

He shows his preoccupation with the "difficulty" by returning to it again and again: pp. 142, 145, 153, 158, after dwelling on it in a long chapter, pp. 29-57.

Here is the difficulty: Mary had to be redeemed first only then could she join in redeeming others. But there is only one objective redemption. Hence God could not accept her co-operation. (No one denies she had received the application of the redemption long before Calvary. The question is: could her redemption be earned by Christ at the same time as she was co-operating in redeeming others) .

Before answering, let us note that a thousand difficulties do not make a doubt. A truth that is solidly grounded on positive evidence cannot be shaken by having an objection raised against it: otherwise, whenever any objection or doubt against the faith assailed a Catholic, he would be obliged, if he did not know the answer, to doubt his faith—which is absurd. Actually, the difficulty can be solved by a simple distinction: the word first need not imply any difference in time (a difference of time would violate the unity of the redemption). For there are two ways of giving a thing first or second place: one in the order of time, another, in the order of intention. In the order of time, I may do one thing at 4 P.M., and then, an hour or so later, do the second. But in the order of intention, I may decide that one thing ranks first, another second: I need not have any difference at all in the order of time. St. Thomas knows and freely uses this same type of distinction, ea., he says that although one must first have grace before he can merit, yet, in the one instant in which a sinner receives grace, there is room for both the reception of grace, and for meritorious co-operation with the grace being received (I-II, q.112, a.2, ad 1). Or again, in doing a good act, we are in the same instant being moved by God to act, and acting ourselves in virtue of His power. So also, Mary could, at the same time, be redeemed herself, and share in redeeming others. It is obvious that there is no need for any difference of time. After all, as far as time is concerned, Mary had already been given the fruit of the objective redemption in an anticipated way at her Immaculate Conception— long before Calvary. Hence the problem vanishes. We might also note in passing that a similar difficulty on the Immaculate Conception continued to worry some theologians for centuries after Duns Scotus had correctly solved it.

Members of this minority give rather little time to analysis of the papal texts. To the best of this writer's knowledge, they have still not even attempted to explain away the Fatima text (pp. 22-23 above), but where they have discussed papal texts they have found it necessary to strain them.

Thus, W. Goossens (op. cit., p. 71) says that Pope Benedict XV affirms Mary's co-operation in the objective redemption, but he cannot see that it is an immediate co-operation, although the Pope was speaking of Calvary. Similarly, Father Lennerz (Gregorianum XIX, 432) tries to say that the text of St. Pius X on Mary's merit refers to her present intercession in heaven, since the Latin has a present tense, promeret. We have already shown (p. 262) that this is merely the familiar historical present, and that to attempt to translate it as present leads to absurd combinations. A. Michel, a member of the same minority, readily admits promeret really does have past force (AER, March, 1950, p. 185, note 4). Again, Canon Smith (Mary's Part in Our Redemption, 2d. ea., N.Y., 1954, pp. 104, 114) makes the same text of St. Pius X refer to Mary's merit on Calvary, in the sense, however, that she merited only the application of grace (in the subjective redemption), while Christ alone merited "to make grace universally accessible" (merit in the objective redemption).—For three centuries theologians had been using the same formula that St. Pius X used to express a merit in the objective redemption. Yet, if we accepted Smith's view, we would have to suppose St. Pius X suddenly changed the sense of this familiar formula, and expected we would realize he had done so, not only without making such an intention clear in any way, but in spite of his words "as they say." Further, the Pope would be expecting us to understand he had omitted so fundamental a distinction ("accessibility": application) though he took care to express the lesser distinction (congruously: condignly). These minority views are incompatible with other papal texts also. For example, in the Fatima text, Pius XII said Christ is King and Mary is Queen "by right of conquest." Now it is one thing to conquer: another to merit merely that the spoils be distributed.

The minority would have to suppose that the same speaker, repeating the same words, in the same sentence, would expect us to see two different senses by reading in a distinction of which he gives no hint, a distinction that is far from obvious—and all this, in spite of the fact that the Pope is clearly using exact language, since he gave triple expression to a distinction that really is obvious: "through Him, with Him, and subordinate to Him." Again, we read that "together with Christ she redeemed the human race" (Benedict XV) and that the "struggle" that made grace "accessible" was common to Christ and Mary (Pius XII). Now if the "struggle" was in common, how could Christ and Mary be in two different spheres (objective and subjective redemptions)? If His offering was effective in that objective redemption which caused the resurrection, while Mary's was not effective in the objective redemption, then why did her Assumption have to be a common effect from a common cause, as Pius XII said? Here and, everywhere, the minority expect us to believe that the Popes, while often spelling out what we could easily have supplied, yet repeatedly expect us to read in the accessibility-application distinction, which they never express, never even hint at, and which is so far from being obviously needed that the majority of theologians never believe we should add it! Yet, it is one of the gravest duties of the Holy See to guard against doctrinal error. We have seen (p. 171, n. 6) the great precautions taken against possible error on the priesthood of Mary. Her role on Calvary is a much more serious question. As Fr. Lennerz says, the doctrine of the Coredemption is no mere pious question, but one "about the nature and essence of the very work of our redemption" (Gregorianum XXVIII, 575). Now if the majority of theologians were being led into so serious an error (it would be serious were it an error) by the words of Saint Pius X, surely the succeeding Popes would have an obligation to correct the majority—and at very least they should refrain from giving more and more forceful statements to support the "error." But the truth is, every Pope since St. Pius X has given further texts to support the majority view. The texts of Pope Pius XII seem completely inescapable. If this were error, the Holy See itself would be open to an extremely grave charge not only of not hindering error, but of giving it repeated support.

Cf. J. B. Carol, De Corredemptione (Vatican, 1950): Roschini, op. cit., II, 251-393; AER articles: Nov. 1949, June 1950; July-Oct. 1951.

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